Drilling ban fails in Allegheny County Council

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Allegheny County Council voted down a three-year ban on drilling in county parks Tuesday night, leaving open the possibility for natural gas development beneath Deer Lakes Park.

The proposal, which has languished in committee for two months, was forced onto the table by sponsor Barbara Daly Danko, who said she had been waiting long enough. While that vote was narrowly successful -- an 8-7 split -- the vote on the moratorium was not, with only Ms. Danko, D-Regent Square, and fellow sponsor Bill Robinson, D-Hill District, voting yes.

Ms. Danko wasn't surprised, although she had hoped for more support.

"I didn't see any real reason to wait any longer," she said after the vote.

Four council members abstained from the vote: Jim Burn, D-Millvale, who said he could be involved in litigation involving drilling companies; Amanda Green Hawkins, D-Stanton Heights, who said her husband has a financial interest in drilling; at-large Republican representative Heather Heidelbaugh, who also cited representation conflicts; and Matt Drozd, I-Ross, who said a friend of his is involved in the "water reclamation" business.

The balance of council voted against the proposal, including former moratorium sponsor John Palmiere, D-Baldwin Township.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has proposed allowing drilling beneath Deer Lakes Park, which straddles West Deer and Fawn townships. Only one company has shown interest: Range Resources, which has leased much of the land surrounding the park.

Mr. Fitzgerald has promised that all well pads would be built outside park boundaries, with drills boring horizontally underneath the ground.

The proposal has sparked a fierce debate on council, with legions of residents speaking against the plan at every meeting since August. By Ms. Danko's count, nearly 100 residents have testified on the issue.

"The gas isn't going anywhere," Ms. Danko told her colleagues Tuesday night. "For us to go too fast, I think we're doing a disservice to our children, to our grandchildren."

The vote came as a surprise to the dozen or so residents who signed up to speak, forcing a quick turn as they watched their hopes for a drilling moratorium evaporate. Several spoke instead on a presumed future vote to drill at Deer Lakes, hoping Tuesday night's vote would not prove a bellwether of council's intentions.

"There's no need to negotiate a deal right now," Mel Packer of Pittsburgh said. "I want you to get up tomorrow, look in the mirror and think about your grandchildren."

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.

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