Council president proposes amendment to drilling ordinance

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The president of Allegheny County Council said Friday he plans to introduce an amendment that adds more detail to the ordinance council is considering regarding the leasing of mineral rights beneath Deer Lakes Park.

“A lot of people made comment, and I agree with it, that in the ordinance, we don’t have it all spelled out,” said John DeFazio, a Shaler Democrat who is an at-large council member.

He said adding detail to the ordinance — such as additional language about water testing and royalty payments — provides “another safeguard.”

The wording of the proposed amendment has not yet been finalized. Mr. DeFazio said he plans to introduce it an upcoming council committee meeting, and he expects other council members will join on as co-sponsors.

Members of county council are considering a proposal by county Executive Rich Fitzgerald to lease the mineral rights beneath the county-owned Deer Lakes Park for off-site extraction of natural gas by Range Resources with its partner Huntley & Huntley.

The lengthy lease, which includes provisions that Mr. Fitzgerald said makes it the “most comprehensive” non-surface lease in the state, would yield a $4.7 million bonus payment, $3 million to parks improvements and 18 percent in royalties.

Before council is an ordinance that leases the mineral rights to Range, with the provision that no drilling operations occur on the surface of the park. But some council members, as well as members of the public, have raised concerns about the changes that could be made to the lease in the future since it is not attached to the ordinance.

County solicitor Andrew Szefi has told council members it has not been the practice in the county to attach a lease to an ordinance. Amie Downs, a spokeswoman for Mr. Fitzgerald, said the county executive still did not want the lease attached to the ordinance.

But she said Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. DeFazio had spoken, and that “in the spirit of compromise,” Mr. Fitzgerald supported an amendment that would include in the ordinance “substantive items” from the lease.

The council’s parks committee will meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Gold Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse to continue a discussion that began last week about legal issues surrounding the ordinance and the lease. The committee will meet again at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Gold Room to discuss economic factors.

Councilwoman Sue Means, R-Bethel Park, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday that she plans to hold an informational meeting open to council members and the public about the Deer Lakes Park plan at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Gold Room.

She said she has invited speakers including Susan Packard LeGros, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development and John Smith and Jonathan Kamin, attorneys who represented the municipalities that challenged the state’s oil and gas law.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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