Prudent drilling: Allegheny County has a good deal at Deer Lakes Park

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Taking advantage of the potential for jobs and energy while protecting the region’s air and water supplies is the key to successfully tapping Marcellus Shale deposits deep underground.

It looks like Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has achieved the right balance with a five-year agreement with Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley for hydraulic drilling under Deer Lakes Park in West Deer and Frazer.

Naturally, the deal brings financial benefits. If approved by Allegheny County Council, it will mean a $4.7 million bonus payment, $3 million for improvements to the county park system and annual royalty payments estimated at $3 million a year for as long as the wells produce. There also is potential for employment opportunities, with Range committed to holding at least two job fairs for county residents.

It is safety features, though, that set this deal apart, since the provisions in this agreement go beyond state-mandated safeguards. Most important, the lease forbids surface drilling within the park; horizontal wells will run underground from three pads erected on private property outside the park.

The county will require surface water to be tested 1,000 feet beyond the 2,500-foot distance from a well site that is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Surface waters will be tested every three months until drilling begins and then again every six months until drilling is complete to assess any impact from the drilling.

Range Resources will coordinate with Wagman Observatory in Deer Lakes to prevent light from interfering with its astronomy operations, and the company will limit truck traffic on school bus routes. Further, the lease mandates that the firms work with local property owners on noise and light pollution and enter into agreements to maintain local roads. When the drilling is done, Range must pay to repave county roads that have been used.

There has been vocal opposition to allowing drilling under the park, and general citizen vigilance is a good thing. Although this lease agreement won’t satisfy everyone, it is carefully crafted and worthy of approval by county council.

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