Though they've already lost the battle for Allegheny County's airports, anti-fracking activists are marshaling their forces against drilling under county parks, preparing to make their case before county council later this month.
Groups such as Marcellus Protest and South Hills Area Against Dangerous Drilling say they plan to show up in force to council's Aug. 20 meeting, the first after its summer recess. Drilling for natural gas in Marcellus Shale under parks likely won't be on the agenda, but opponents plan to air the issue in front of council.
"Having some money to replace some picnic tables isn't worth destroying the value of our public land," said Sarah Scholl, co-founder of the South Hills group. "We want them to take a stand against the short-term thinking that may blind them to the real harms and realize that it's not worth it."
Earlier this year, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced he was in talks with Range Resources and local firm Huntley & Huntley to lease natural gas drilling rights under Deer Lakes Park, which straddles West Deer and Frazer. Range Resources has systematically leased surrounding properties and recently won permits to drill three wells just a few hundred feet from the park.
The companies want to establish wells outside park property that would drill horizontally underneath park land.
Mr. Fitzgerald made his thoughts clear during his quarterly address to county council in June: Allegheny County can either cash in now or watch the chance pass by.
He generally supports the idea of drilling under park land as long as well pads aren't on county property.
"From our understanding, the drilling is going to occur anyway," he said then. "I want to see exactly what it might be worth."
Those opposed to drilling say the county executive's attitude is shortsighted, and with the amount of money involved, perhaps conveniently so. Mr. Fitzgerald has estimated the county could receive $2 million to $4 million for signing away Deer Lakes' 1,180 acres, as well as $700,000 annually in royalties. Some of that money would go toward the park's upkeep.
On June 15, he met with several groups with ties to the park, including the Pittsburgh Trail Advocacy Group, the Wagman Observatory and the Pittsburgh Flying Disc Society.
Mr. Fitzgerald said he is willing to sit down with any group that invites him.
Though no other parks are on the table yet, the executive has mentioned Round Hill Park and White Oak Park as other prospects for drilling.
All of this concerns anti-fracking groups, which are still smarting from their failed attempt to sink plans to drill at Pittsburgh International Airport.
Though the county held an open hearing before February's vote to discuss Consol Energy's proposal, protesters said they felt rushed, speaking only after public officials had expressed their support and hurrying to finish before the meeting closed.
This time around, they want to have the conversation on their terms. While each speaker will have just three minutes to say their piece before council, the groups intend to bring a broad representation of those concerned.
"We have to get the county better engaged in discussing this issue," said Gloria Forouzan of Marcellus Protest. "We have to do a better job of spreading the word."
Andrew McGill: email@example.com or 412-263-1497.