Protesters rail against drilling in Allegheny County parks

More than 200 march Saturday to Allegheny County Courthouse


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The outdoor courtyard at the Allegheny County Courthouse is usually a quiet, restful place, but on Saturday it was the site of some seriously raucous street theater.

About 250 people marched from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to the courthouse to protest natural gas drilling in Allegheny County parks, led by county Executive Rich Fitzgerald -- in effigy.

"Hey! Fitzgerald! Do not put our parks in peril!" the marchers chanted during a 15-minute walk to the courthouse, with Ben Fiorello, of O'Hara, hoisting the giant papier-mache and wood puppet of the county executive on his shoulders.

Once they were in the courtyard, one young man shouted through a megaphone, "Everyone knows benefits from these projects only trickle down and all we get are crumbs!"

"No more crumbs! No more crumbs!" the crowd shouted back. Then two people holding giant cardboard drilling rigs sporting a logo of Range Resources -- the Texas-based oil and natural gas producer -- hurled them to the ground.

Allegheny County Council has yet to vote on the plan, but Mr. Fitzgerald has said he supports leasing natural gas drilling rights under Deer Lakes Park as long as the well pads aren't on county property. The leases, he said, could yield between $2 million and $4 million at the outset and $700,000 in royalties yearly, all part of an effort to diversify the economy and bring new energy wealth to the region.

The protesters, who had tried and failed earlier this year to prevent drilling at Pittsburgh International Airport, weren't having any.

"After we lost the battle at the airport, we started to feel that they were coming closer, really encroaching on us, so we decided we had to take action," said Devon Cohen, 28, of Lawrenceville, one of the march's organizers.

Saturday's march was the prelude for a much larger march planned for Monday by attendees at the Power Shift 2013 conference, a four-day meeting on the environment and climate change, which has attracted 7,000 people, most of them between the ages of 17 and 23. That march targets PNC Bank, claiming it finances mountaintop removal, although the bank said in its 2013 corporate responsibility report that it does not extend credit to individual mountaintop mining projects or to a coal producer that receives a majority of its production from such activities.

The march will begin at 11:30 a.m. after a 10 a.m. rally at Allegheny Landing on the North Side and will result in some street closures and parking restrictions Downtown.

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Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1949 First Published October 19, 2013 8:00 PM


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