Fake gas well to help train responders for emergencies

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Visitors to North Park soon may see what looks like a gas well being built near the Allegheny County Fire Academy.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald will submit legislation to county council on Tuesday seeking approval for construction of a mock oil-and-gas production facility. If the project is approved by county legislators, the site will be used to train both public and private first responders to deal with emergencies.

Huntley and Huntley Inc., a Monroeville-based natural resource developer, would cover the costs for the project.

No actual drilling will take place at the mock facility, according to Amie Downs, a spokeswoman for Mr. Fitzgerald. The fire academy property is located south of West Ridge Drive in the McCandless portion of the park. "It would be an exact replica of what a well would look like," Ms. Downs said.

Actual construction of the mock facility would take only a few weeks, she said. Council faces no deadline in acting on the offer from Huntley and Huntley. "Council members will have whatever time they need to perform their due diligence -- however long that process takes," she said.

More and more "unconventional" drilling for natural gas in the deep Marcellus and Utica shale layers is expected in many areas of the county. That increases the need for such a facility, Ms. Downs said. "Public-safety responders need to be trained in how to deal with emergency situations involving oil-and-gas industry structures," Ms. Downs said. Both paid and volunteer firefighters and workers in private industry would be trained at the site.

"It sounds like a positive development," council President Charles Martoni, D-Swissvale, said of the proposed project. "A lot of us have concerns about the whole idea of natural-gas drilling," he said. "Having a facility to train people would be one way to head off some problems."

He said he looked forward to getting more details on the proposal.

"It's an excellent idea to do training to prepare for emergencies," Councilman Nick Futules said. Mr. Futules, D-Oakmont, serves as council vice president and chairman of its parks committee. He said he wanted more information on how the project might affect North Park.

region - marcellusshale

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159. First Published June 4, 2012 12:00 AM


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