Nothing has been decided yet, but Allegheny County Council is considering an offer to develop natural gas found under Deer Lakes Park.
A new group made up of several grass roots organizations is planning to urge the group to say “no.” Members of Protect Our Parks will deliver their message at Tuesday’s County Council meeting.
“The immediate threat to our park land will be increased truck noise, possibilities of methane leaking out of well casings, air pollution, noise pollution, traffic on the roads," said Protect Our Parks member Jennifer Myers."The lakes, streams and rivers of the county parks will inevitably become polluted.”
Parks Committee Chair Nick Futules said those scenarios are unlikely.
Futules said the proposal being examined would not include any surface development on park land. He said there are already wells operating near the park; operators have asked permission to horizontally drill under park land with royalties to be paid to the county.
Futules said the average park-goer wouldn’t realize any difference.
“We just toured Washington County last Monday, and it’s business as usual in the parks,” Futules said. “In fact, they put us on a bus and took us to their sites, and there are gravel roads that they built off into the woods somewhere, nobody knew where they were and they weren’t a short distance from anything. They were pretty far out. The gravel road was a good five-minute drive before we came across a well head.”
In addition, Futules said the move would provide revenue to Allegheny County that would go back into the parks and beyond.
“If they go this direction with drilling on county property it could bring in $4 million, $5 million, $6 million a year in revenues,” he said. “That’s once they’re complete. I’m not just talking about Deer Lakes, I’m talking about any possibilities for the future, any parks or other county property.”
Protect Our Parks said new park benches and picnic areas aren’t enough to repair land and water after natural gas development. The group plans to hold a news conference before the County Council meeting Tuesday, where they will lay out some of their specific demands.
“To block any attempt to drill or frack in or under our parks, we ask that they demand written reports of all private negotiations between the fracking industry and Mr. Fitzgerald," Myers said, "and we demand that our council hold public hearings on the subject which would be open to all Allegheny County residents."
Myers said it doesn’t matter if there is no surface drilling. Protect Our Parks Group wants the parks to remain completely untouched.
“These places are places we go to relax and picnic and hike and swim, and to turn them into toxic, industrial sites is alarming to us,” she said.
Futules disagreed that that would happen if this proposal were to go through.
“Anything we do in the future we’re going to act responsible for what we’re doing, and make sure that everything, all the guidelines from the EPA and DEP are followed according to what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
While Protect Our Parks, which is made up of groups including Marcellus Protest, Shadbush Environmental Justice Collective and South Hills Area Against Dangerous Drilling, plans to attend Tuesday’s County Council meeting, no fracking-related items are on the council’s agenda.
Protect Our Parks Myers said the group will continue to go to meetings, call area representatives and urge communities throughout the county to support their message.