Allegheny County puts Deer Lakes Park drilling lease on website

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There will be plenty of talking in the next few weeks about the deal to drill for natural gas beneath Deer Lakes Park.

For now, the focus is on reading.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Thursday posted to the county website the proposed lease with Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley, shortly after copies of the lease were distributed to the 15 members of Allegheny County Council.

The lease, at 81 pages, is no quick read. It describes in detail an arrangement Mr. Fitzgerald summarized at a news conference March 17 and in an address to council the following day, in which Range and Huntley would drill for natural gas beneath the county park in Frazer and West Deer.

"It looks pretty standard," said Councilman Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont, who said he began reading the lease Thursday night and will continue to go through it over the next few days. "It's what we all talked about. It doesn't look like anything out of the ordinary to me."

The lease stipulates that no drilling operations occur within the park; well pads will be constructed on private property outside the park and horizontal wells will reach beneath park land. The lease states that the county will receive a $4,000 bonus for each of the park's 1,180 acres, or about $4.7 million total. Another $3 million payment will go toward improvements at county parks. The county will also receive 18 percent in royalties from drilling.

The lease also, among other requirements, says that Range must hold at least two job fairs, must minimize light pollution affecting the Wagman Observatory, make repairs to county roads, and minimize traffic impact on school bus routes. Range must also conduct tests of the surface water at nine locations and is responsible for providing temporary water supplies if water is polluted.

"I think it's a good, fair deal," said Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin.

"I'm thrilled that we have it," said Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, a Regent Square Democrat who last year voted against the contract to drill on county lands at the Pittsburgh International Airport. She had asked to see the lease last week, after Mr. Fitzgerald presented details about it in his quarterly address to county council.

She said she would need to spend time reviewing the language of the lease.

Councilwoman Jan Rea, R-McCandless, said Friday she had not read the lease yet, but that she was glad to have it. She said she was interested in hearing what council's attorneys thought of it.

Mr. Futules said he had some questions about "minor things" in the lease, which he said he would ask as council begins discussing the lease. It is expected to be on council's agenda at its next meeting April 8, and then will be referred to the council's parks committee, which Mr. Futules chairs, for discussion.

Mr. Futules said he expects to hold at least one public hearing prior to council's vote on the issue.

Steven Townsend, a Pittsburgh attorney who deals in landowners' oil and gas leases, said he had looked through the lease and said he thought it had "a lot of good provisions." He did question, however, whether language in the lease could allow the county to waive its non-surface drilling provisions in the future.

The county has stressed that there will be no surface drilling in Deer Lakes Park. The only way the provision against surface drilling could be lifted is by ordinance, the county solicitor said.

Mr. Fitzgerald will hold a public meeting about the drilling plan at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Deer Lakes High School. Ted Popovich, a drilling opponent who lives in Ben Avon, said he and others opposed to fracking, who have been a fixture at council meetings for months, plan to be there.

He said he had not yet read the agreement, but that he was opposed to the plan.

"The lease arrangement, whatever it is, I don't think it's going to be good enough."

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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