Allegheny County parks drilling opponents gather at hearing in Harrison

Every two weeks, a dedicated group of residents has driven Downtown, paid for parking and filed through metal detectors to speak at the Allegheny County Council meeting, demanding their representatives bury proposed plans to drill for natural gas underneath a county park.

On Wednesday night, they got their own meeting.

More than 100 people attended a panel discussion in Natrona Heights hosted by state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, who brought together fellow politicians and local advocates to speak against drilling for natural gas beneath public parkland.

Mr. Ferlo, who has introduced legislation to place a moratorium on natural gas development statewide, called on his audience to take a more direct role in lobbying officials against drilling.

"We are failing to see the obvious fact that fracking cannot exist with the county parks' recreation and conservation purposes," he said. "Many public officials have thrown all caution to the wind and are infatuated with the fracking industry."

Directly in Mr. Ferlo's cross hairs is a proposal from county Executive Rich Fitzgerald to drill beneath Deer Lakes Park. Mr. Fitzgerald has said no well pads would be built within the park, with drillers instead setting up shop along the perimeter and boring horizontally under ground.

Backed by a rotating slideshow of well flares and dried-up creeks, Mr. Ferlo's panel gave a spirited rebuttal. It included county Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, D-Regent Square, who has proposed a three-year drilling moratorium in county parks; Doug Shields, the former Pittsburgh City Council president who spearheaded a city moratorium on drilling; and four advocates and experts. Several highlighted the risks of drilling, asking whether residents would really want rigs near county parks. Others questioned the long-term viability of natural gas production in the region, given low prices and environmental pressure.

"This has been looked at as a bridge fuel," said Patricia DeMarco. "My question is, a bridge to what?"

On Friday, the county officially closed its request for proposals to drill beneath Deer Lakes Park. County manager William McKain said the administration would review the proposals confidentially before bringing any deal to council. An expected contender is energy giant Range Resources, which has leased much of the land surrounding the park.

Council President Charles Martoni hasn't scheduled a committee hearing yet to debate Ms. Danko's bill.

After the discussion, residents lined up to testify and vent.

"This is about where I live, where I play and where I work," said Carrie White, of Fawn, who lives near the park. "Everyone in this room has an obligation to protect their townships, their communities, their state."

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