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Fitzgerald Faces Council, Activists Over Deer Lakes Gas Drilling Deal

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald delivered his quarterly state of the county address Tuesday night and had plenty of praise for county departments.

Fitzgerald acknowledged public works for its handling of the roughest winter weather in recent memory, the health department for its successful efforts to improve air quality in the county and the medical examiner’s Office for a recent national award it received for ballistics work.

But it wasn’t all hand-shaking and back-patting at Tuesday night’s County Council meeting. Fitzgerald Monday announced plans to drill for natural gas under Deer Lakes Park, bringing anti-hydraulic fracturing activists out in full force.

According to Fitzgerald, Range Resources is offering to pay the county $4,000/acre for drilling rights, an 18 percent royalty on gas extraction and an additional $3 million for park improvement.

“In essence, we would be getting about $7.7 million up front, which averages about $6,500/acre, in addition to the ongoing royalties depending on the market price of natural gas and the yield,” Fitzgerald said.

He also said that the county is requiring stricter environmental controls than the state Department of Environmental Protection. The off-site extraction contract, which is still under negotiation, would require Range Resources to conduct environmental impact tests within a 3,500-foot radius of the well pad, instead of 2,500 feet as required by the DEP. Fitzgerald said Range will also test the water before drilling, coordinate emergency response with local fire departments and limit truck traffic on school bus routes.

Not everyone was impressed with the deal Fitzgerald’s office has reached with Range Resources. When he told the crowd that the county is “lucky to partner with a good company like Range,” anti-fracking activists erupted with shouts and boos.

Some county council representatives expressed dismay that they were not involved in the negotiation process with Range Resources, though Fitzgerald maintains that all members of council were invited to participate.

The county executive had a particularly tense exchange with Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh (at-large), who said she was never asked to participate in negotiations.

“Oh, yes you were, absolutely you were,” Fitzgerald shot back, speaking over the councilwoman.

A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 2 at Deer Lakes High School.

Fitzgerald said he hopes to have the final deal worked out with Range Resources within the next week and will have legislation ready for council at the April 8 meeting.

Clarification: This report has been updated to clarify that while Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald expects to have legislation presented to County Council at its April 8 meeting, it is unclear when the council will vote on the matter.

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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