Although it still must be approved by Allegheny County Council, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced late Monday that an agreement has been reached with natural gas driller Range Resources for the off-site extraction of gas located below Deer Lakes Park.
"By non-surface, I mean non-surface," Fitzgerald told reporters. "There will be no activity that occurs on Park land at Deer Lakes other than the fact that they will go on to do some testing."
Fitzgerald says the drilling will already be going on in the area and the county's involvement will both make the process safer and provide an economic boon to the county.
Range will pay the county an up-front bonus payment of $4,000-per acre that totals $4.7 million. Another $3 million will be set aside to create a Park Improvement Fund intended to improve all county parks. The county will also receive 18 percent in royalties for 30 years, a sum that Fitzgerald estimates to be around $3 million a year.
"Regardless of what the county does, the drilling is going to go on anyway," Fitzgerald said. "So what we have done is ask Range Resources to use site-specific enhancements that are above and beyond what the DEP requires."
For example, DEP requires drilling companies to conduct tests within 2500-feet of a well site. This agreement would extend that requirement to 3,500 feet. Additionally, Fitzgerald said, the county lease would require pre-drilling testing of surface water to be done every three months and then every six months once drilling begins until it ceases.
"Again this is something that we are requiring them to do," Fitzgerald said. "For the people that live in this community — in Frazier and West Deer — by the county entering into this lease we will be improving the environment."
Fitzgerald says Range resources must also deal with "noise buffering" equipment as well as coordinate with the Wagman Observatory to make sure that the bright lights from drilling operations don't interfere with events at the facility. The lease also requires the company to coordinate with the school district to limit truck traffic on school bus routes.
"These safety requirements are above and beyond the normal safety requirements," Fitzgerald said. "If you care about safety you should feel a little safer about what's going on in the community."
It will be interesting to see how the community and county council reacts to Fitzgerald's announcement. Fitzgerald plans on introducing a resolution to approve drilling under the park to Allegheny County Council on Tuesday night. For the past several months, activists and West Deer residents have been flooding county council t sound off about any proposed drilling under the park. County Councilor Barbara Daley Danko even tried to pass a moratorium on drilling on county park land. That proposal was shot down. A public hearing on the proposal will be held at 7 p.m. on April 2 at Deer Lake High School.
And although there has been some opposition to drilling under the park in the past, Fitzgerald says he believes the community will feel differently about it when they see the provisions in the lease.
"We want to hear from the public and hear what they have to say once we release these details of this agreement," Fitzgerald said. "I want to have a good give and take and a good public discussion on this.
"Some people have been weighing in on something when we didn't have the details yet. And I'm not sure how you can be for or against something until we have the details."
The county's full release appears after the jump.
Fitzgerald Discusses Status of Deal with Range Resources, Huntley & Huntley
PITTSBURGH — Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced today that Allegheny County has reached agreement with Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley for the off-site extraction of gas under Deer Lakes Park. The lease will bring $4.7 million in a bonus payment, an additional $3 million Park Improvement Fund, and provides 18% in royalties to the county over the length of the lease.
“I’m very proud of the fact that this is the most comprehensive non-surface lease that has ever been crafted in Pennsylvania,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “The county’s participation in this makes this a win-win for the community. We are enhancing assurances for our residents, enhancing revenues for the county as well as the private land owners, and enhancing our community through the park improvements that can be made with these revenues.”
The lease strictly prohibits any operations in Deer Lakes Park. It also includes a wide range of enhanced terms negotiated by the County including expansion of DEP water testing requirements, planning with local school districts to avoid school bus routes, coordination with local fire departments regarding safety plans, noise and light reduction provisions including coordination to minimize impacts on the Wagman Observatory, and an obligation to implement industry best practices for all aspects of operations during the course of lease. The company will also be responsible for all necessary repairs to portions of county roads utilized by them in furthering its operations. In addition, the proposed lease requires the operators to conduct at least two job fairs for County residents to learn about employment opportunities in the industry.
Throughout this process, the Executive also met with numerous area organizations that utilize Deer Lakes Park to talk with them about challenges, needs, and concerns. Additionally, he along with staff and members of County Council toured the park on several different occasions and met and talked with neighbors who have already entered into leases with Range Resources for surface drilling. Honoring a prior commitment, Fitzgerald also announced that he will hold hearings in the community on the proposed lease that will provide an opportunity for residents to learn about the agreement and ask questions of the county, Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley. The hearing will be held on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 beginning at 7:00 p.m. at Deer Lakes High School. Further information related to the agenda will be announced at a later date.
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