In a heated meeting that lasted more than seven hours and included more than four hours of public comment, members of Allegheny County Council early Wednesday morning approved a lease agreement to drill for natural gas underneath Deer Lakes Park.
The final vote was five to nine, with one abstention. Nay votes came from Council members Barbara Daly Danko, Heather Heidelbaugh, Sue Means, Jan Rea, and William Russell Robinson. Amanda Green Hawkins abstained because her husband has interests in a business that holds stock in Range Resources, the Texas-based company contracted to perform drilling operations.
Those in favor of the lease said they wanted to create jobs and bring a new revenue stream to the county.
Councilman Edward Kress, whose district includes the proposed drilling site, said he surveyed his constituents and found that they were largely in support of the proposed plan.
“I met a man 84 years old, he’s working, wife has Alzheimer’s,” Kress recalled. “(I asked him) ‘What do you think?’ (He said) ‘I signed the lease, I need the money. I think it’s a good thing. Why are these people from Squirrel Hill telling me what to do with my property?”
Meanwhile, those against the hydraulic fracturing plan cited environmental concerns and a lack of transparency on the part of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, who proposed amendments that she said would beef up environmental protections, called the process “the exact definition of an undemocratic process.”
Councilwoman Sue Means said she believed approval of the lease was a violation of the state constitution, which requires elected officials to protect air and water from degradation.
“We have not done our due diligence concerning the environment and we need to have a water and air modeling study to realize if the water and the air will go onto park property,” Means said.
The majority of those who spoke during the public comment period were against the plan. At the close of the meeting, environmental activists shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at the Council members, and then sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” as they left the Gold Room.