Allegheny County announces deal for drilling under Deer Lakes Park

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Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced Monday that the county had reached an agreement with Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to drill for natural gas beneath Deer Lakes Park.

Mr. Fitzgerald said payments from the deal, which must be approved by the 15-member Allegheny County Council, include a $4.7 million bonus payment and another $3 million for improvements to the county park system, with 18 percent of royalties, an estimated $3 million a year, going to the county.

The figures were higher than those submitted to the county by the energy companies late last year, when their proposal called for $3.5 million in signing bonuses and a 17 percent royalty on future gas sales.

The lease will prohibit drilling operations on Deer Lakes Park land, a 1,180-acre expanse that covers parts of West Deer and Frazer. Instead, Mr. Fitzgerald said, horizontal wells stretching from three well pads on private property will extend beneath the land under the park.

"This is the most comprehensive, non-surface lease in the state," he said. "It is a benchmark, it is a model, for what other communities should do."

In a news conference Monday afternoon at the Allegheny County Courthouse, he outlined some of the features of the lease that he said made it a model. The county will require surface water testing 1,000 feet beyond the 2,500 feet of a well site required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, he said.

The county will also require pre-drilling testing of surface waters every three months before drilling begins, and then again every six months until drilling is complete. The lease also requires coordination with local property owners regarding noise and light pollution, and he said Range Resources, a Washington County-based energy company, will coordinate with the Wagman Observatory in Deer Lakes to prevent light interference.

The lease also will require Range to limit truck traffic on school bus routes and to enter into road maintenance agreements with local municipalities, Mr. Fitzgerald said. Once drilling operations are completed, Range must pay for the repaving of the county roads they have used, he said.

Range must also hold at least two job fairs for county residents to learn about job opportunities in the industry.

The company is no stranger to residents of Frazer and West Deer. Already "virtually every parcel" around Deer Lakes Park, or about two dozen property owners, have signed a lease with the company, said Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella.

"Really, what the lease, with the county's participation enables, is for a significant increase in royalties for surrounding land owners," he said.

The five-year lease requires drilling to begin within two years. Mr. Pitzarella said his company plans to move forward as soon as possible after regulatory and legislative approvals.

Mr. Fitzgerald will likely be talking about the Deer Lakes deal again tonight, when he delivers his quarterly address to county council at 5 p.m. in the Allegheny County Courthouse.

There, too, as they have been at the past several county council meeting, will be county residents who opposed to drilling under county parks, no matter what the terms of a proposed lease.

"Public parks are for public use. They should not be endangered by an industrial process," said Mel Packer, a member of the Protect Our Parks coalition that was formed last year, and a frequent speaker at council meetings.

Mr. Packer said he and other members of the coalition will continue to fight against drilling beneath the parks "tooth and nail."

Mr. Fitzgerald will host a public hearing about the plan at 7 p.m. April 2 at Deer Lakes High School.

"We need to have a good give-and-take, and a good public discussion, on this," he said.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707. First Published March 17, 2014 2:49 PM

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