Council Votes No on Fracking Moratorium for County Parks
Despite passionate pleas from local activists, Allegheny County Council on Tuesday voted down a measure that would have placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in county parks for the next two years.
The bill was written and introduced into Council by the residents themselves, using a provision of the county’s charter that has never actually been put into practice. Activists with the group Protect our Parks gathered nearly 2,000 signatures, well beyond the 500 signatures required to put the bill before Council.
The legislation would have made an exception for Deer Lakes Park, where fracking activity has already received approval from Council.
Mel Packer of Point Breeze was one of twenty people who spoke in favor of the moratorium. He pointed to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s early support of Governor Tom Wolf, who placed a moratorium on fracking in or under state parks and forests shortly after taking office.
“Why, while the governor of our state has decided that wisdom demands a moratorium on fracking in public lands because they are there for the enjoyment of the public and not for industrial exploitation, does Fitzgerald cling to the idea that parks must be open for fracking instead of keeping them for our children?” Packer asked.
Activists referred to the legislation as a “wait-and-see” bill, saying that the effects of hydraulic fracturing at Deer Lakes Park should be monitored for a period of two years before any other leases to frack under public parks are signed.
Many speakers cited concerns about the effects of chemicals used in fracking on the health of those living nearby.
“Researchers in Colorado found that if you are pregnant and live within ten miles of a fracked natural gas well … your chances of giving birth to a child with a congenital heart, brain, spinal cord, or spine defect increases significantly,” said Edgewood resident Stephanie Ulmer as she fought back tears. “And the closer to the well you live and the more drilling there is in your area, the higher your chances are.”
But members of County Council were not swayed, and several said they did not want to tie the hands of themselves or future council members when it comes to hydraulic fracturing.
Democrat Nicholas Futules of Verona, who chairs the Parks committee, said Council should make decisions about oil and gas leases on a case by case basis.
“We make decisions based on each individual opportunity that comes before us. We look at the facts and we make those decisions,” Futules said. “Voting for a moratorium is more or less avoiding the issues.”
Robert Macey, a Democrat who represents Mon Valley communities such as West Mifflin and McKeesport, said his vote reflected the wishes of his constituents.
“What we’re trying to do is revitalize our area,” Macey said. “I have yet to have someone from my district come to me and say ‘No fracking, no drilling.’”
No one spoke against the moratorium during the public comment period.
Joni Rabinowitz of Protect our Parks said she was not sure what her group’s next move will be in the wake of Council’s vote, but that they would continue to fight hydraulic fracturing activity in county parks.
But even before the vote, Robert Nishikawa of O’Hara Township said he knew what his next step would be if the moratorium was voted down.
“While there are maybe only fifty or sixty of us here in this room, we are sixty passionate people,” Nishikawa said. “We are sixty people who will inform as many people as we can about how you vote today, and if the only way to protect our parks is to vote you out, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Nine of fifteen council seats will be on the ballot this year. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has reported that those who have said they will seek re-election include John DeFazio, Sue Means, John Palmiere, Nicholas Futules, and Barbara Daly-Danko. William Robinson and Amanda Green Hawkins have said they are not sure if they will run again or not, while Jan Rea and Heather Heidelbaugh will not seek re-election.
Robinson cast the sole yes vote on the proposed ordinance, while all other present members of Council voted no. Councilwoman Barbara Daly-Danko was absent from the meeting.