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Allegheny County Council To Vote On Deer Lakes Fracking Tuesday

Allegheny County Council is set to vote Tuesday on whether to drill for natural gas underneath Deer Lakes Park.

The controversial resolution would allow Range Resources, in cooperation with Huntley & Huntley, to perform hydraulic fracturing under the park, provided that no drilling activities actually occur within the park.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said if the resolution passes, the county will receive around $7.7 million up front and an ongoing 18 percent royalty on the value of gas extracted.

He has pointed to stronger safety requirements as evidence that the drilling will be done in an environmentally responsible manner.

Opponents of the resolution say that the environmental and health risks of hydraulic fracturing are still unknown and that further study is needed.

“The private landowners around the park have already leased their land, and this process is going forward,” Fitzgerald said. “With the county’s participation in this, we’ll actually have improvement to the environment because of the enhanced standards that we’re adding to the process.”

Joni Rabinowitz, a volunteer with anti-fracking group Protect Our Parks, said she believes the resolution would violate the Pennsylvania constitution.

“The obligations that the county has, according to the (state) constitution … is to protect the land, water and air of the residents, and we don’t believe they would be doing that by passing this resolution,” Rabinowitz said.

In January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down two key provisions of Act 13, the state’s oil and gas drilling law passed in 2012. The court found that the setback waiver portion of the law, which would have allowed companies to appeal minimum setback distances from bodies of water and buildings, did not adequately protect the citizens’ right to clean water and air as required in the state constitution.

The resolution requires a simple majority, and Rabinowitz said her group is hopeful that at least eight of the 15 members of County Council will vote no on the resolution.

Rabinowitz said Protect Our Parks is counting on no votes from council members Barbara Daly-Danko, Jan Rae and William Robinson.

But Fitzgerald says he’s feeling confident about the vote.

“My sense is there’s a good level of support, not just on council but in the community,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything in the 15 years I’ve been in county government that has had the broad base of support that this initiative has.”

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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