Gas plan: Allegheny County takes steps for better oversight

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Some residents of Allegheny County were alarmed when Executive Rich Fitzgerald completed a lucrative deal last February to allow for Marcellus Shale drilling on airport property, then months later backed a plan for natural gas to be drawn from under Deer Lakes Park through a drill pad on adjacent private property.

Mr. Fitzgerald has said all along that he wants the county to tap the opportunity available — for jobs and energy sales — in the gas that lies beneath county lands, while making sure that the drilling is done safely and with respect for the environment.

With two recent steps the county has strengthened those public assurances. An ordinance passed by council and signed by Mr. Fitzgerald last month requires gas developers to notify the county health department before they drill, frack or flare any wells. An announcement Monday declared that county land in the drill zone near Pittsburgh International Airport will be subject to special air pollution monitoring before and after drilling.

The ordinance will give county health officials the same notifications that Pennsylvania law requires for the state and local municipalities. Since the Allegheny County Department of Health monitors, regulates and enforces air quality, it is essential that its staff be given the same 24-hour notice before various phases of gas exploration begin.

The additional air testing near the airport will give county officials and nearby residents the data they need to tell if the gas extraction is being done without harming air quality.

In regard to the airport drilling project, Mr. Fitzgerald  said “we want to ensure that this is done in a health-conscious way.” Same goes for gas development elsewhere. With these and similar protective measures, county officials can make sure that happens.

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