Allegheny County may lease Deer Lakes Park for gas drilling

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Allegheny County will soon seek bids to drill for natural gas beneath Deer Lakes Park, a deal county officials estimate could bring $700,000 a year in royalties.

In his quarterly address to county council Tuesday night, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said energy companies have already leased up the land surrounding the park with plans to drill -- and he doesn't want the county to be left out.

"From our understanding, the drilling is going to occur anyway," he said. "I want to see exactly what it might be worth."

County solicitor Andrew Szefi said he'll post the request for bids as soon as possible, with county council's parks chairman expecting a release by September. After the meeting, Mr. Fitzgerald said he's hoping to receive $700,000 a year in royalties and a one-time bonus of between $2 million and $4 million for signing the lease on the park's 1,800 acres.

The county executive said he does not support drilling directly on park land. Instead, a driller would bore a well on the boundary of the park and then drill horizontally to tap the gas.

With that in mind, only one company is likely eligible: energy giant Range Resources, which has partnered with Monroeville firm Huntley & Huntley to lease up most of the parcels surrounding Deer Lakes Park.

On May 24, Range secured permits to drill three wells off Fairfield Road in Frazer, less than 1,000 feet from the park, according to state records. A Huntley & Huntley executive has said extracting gas from the park would be as simple as running another line from those wells, a pitch the company has made to Mr. Fitzgerald.

Huntley & Huntley has leased land surrounding Round Hill Park in Elizabeth Township. Mr. Fitzgerald mentioned White Oak Park and Harrison Hills Park as other possible sites for development.

Council members generally reacted positively, with several noting that neighbors surrounding the parks have already voted to support drilling by signing their own leases. Council parks committee chairman Nick Futules, D-Oakmont, said he'd hold a public hearing before signing any agreement.

"I don't own the park," he said. "You have to go through the people. The people own the park."

Mr. Futules has leased a well on his own land in Penn Township.

The push to drill in public parks comes as Cecil-based Consol Energy prepares to drill wells near Pittsburgh International Airport, a deal some say could net the county $500 million over 20 years. The company expects to begin "moving some dirt" by the middle of next year, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

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Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.


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