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Allegheny County Council to reconsider ban on fracking in county parks


Allegheny County Council is revisiting a bill that would ban new natural gas drilling – also known as fracking– and other industrial activity inside and underneath county parks.

Allegheny County Councilor Bethany Hallam, one of the bill’s sponsors, proposed similar legislation in March 2021, but it expired at the end of the session without action.

Hallam introduced a similarordinance in January. It was referred to the parks committee, where it has languished since.

Eleven council members voted to pull the bill from the parks committee at a meeting Tuesday evening. The nay votes were Republican Samuel DeMarco III and Democrats Tom Duerr and Nicholas Futules. Republican Suzanne Filiaggi abstained: Fillaggi, who recently joined council to replace Cindy Kirk, noted that she was not present when the bill was introduced.

Council president Pat Catena sent the bill to council’s sustainability committee, which is headed by fracking skeptic Anita Prizio.

If passed, the bill would prohibit private companies and public institutions from mining, fracking, quarrying, or “any other land uses that are not directly associated with the public’s recreational use and enjoyment of county parks.”

The ban would not apply to an existing lease that has been in effect at Deer Lakes Park since 2014. It would prevent those operations from being expanded, however.

“Leases that are already in effect do not stop when this bill is passed. All this stops is future leases,” said Hallam.

Hallam said the goal was to move the bill to the sustainability committee because the parks committee is currently swamped with legislation. She said she hopes the committee change will push council to act before more fracking takes place.

“If we don’t have clean air and clean water for the residents of this county to drink, what else even matters?” she asked.

“Council should have done this a long time ago,” she added. “These are our parks. This is the only true protected greenspace that we have, and it’s our duty to keep those spaces free from harmful chemicals and other harmful practices.”

Pittsburgh City Council previously passed a ban on fracking within city limits. But while legislation to outlaw fracking in county parks has been introduced before, it has not been successfully implemented.

If county council votes to pass the new bill, it’s unlikely to be approved by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has long been a proponent of the natural gas industry and backed gas drilling at the Pittsburgh International Airport, where officials credit it with providing revenue to enhance operations. However, council could override a veto bill if it has a veto-proof majority of 10 votes.

Critics say fracking has been linked to increasedasthma rates, water contamination, and other adverse effects. Industry supporters say the fuel burns more cleanly than coal, and has already produced economic benefits for the region.

Hallam said now that the bill has been moved to the sustainability committee, she hopes it will get a discussion. If the proposed ban moves forward, she said, council will hold public hearings to get feedback on it.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at