Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Monday took staffers and county council members on a field trip to a Washington County park -- but sorry, no nature hikes.
They instead were checking out the drilling operations well underway at Cross Creek County Park, an example of the kind of natural gas development Mr. Fitzgerald hopes to bring to Allegheny County's own parkland.
Nearly a half-dozen county council members came along for the half-day tour, which included discussions with Washington County commissioners and park staff. They surveyed several natural gas wells, which the county hopes could soon generate several million dollars annually.
"We've all seen pictures," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "I think people wanted to see it visually and just to ask questions."
At 2,700 acres, Cross Creek is twice as large as Allegheny County's Deer Lakes Park, the only park the county is considering developing. And unlike their Washington County colleagues, Allegheny County officials aren't planning to allow surface drilling within the park, instead building the well pads outside and drilling underneath horizontally.
But at Cross Creek, council members got a taste of what energy company Range Resources has been promising: money for park equipment, improvements and all that maintenance they've been putting off for years.
"They showed us the new boat docks. They showed us the pavilions," said Nick Futules, D-Oakmont, who is council's parks committee chairman. "They said, 'This all is possible because of what we've done with Marcellus Shale.' "
Allegheny County's legal staff is still drafting a request for proposals, which Mr. Fitzgerald would like to distribute within a month. But with Range and local firm Huntley & Huntley already holding gas leases for most of the properties surrounding the park, it's unlikely another company is in a better position to secure the job.
The county executive is hoping to reap $2 million to $4 million up front and $700,000 in royalties from drilling under Deer Lakes, and he's mentioned Round Hill Park and White Oak Park as possible sites for future development.
While Washington County may have approached drilling differently, Mr. Fitzgerald hopes seeing an active Marcellus Shale operation co-existing comfortably with an equally active park will help allay council's concerns. After all, he needs their votes.
"There were tremendous improvements made to the park," he said. "A lot of details differ, but it was worth us seeing it."
Andrew McGill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1497. First Published August 13, 2013 12:00 AM