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Range Given Green Light to Drill Beneath Parkland Near Pittsburgh

Range Resources Corp. has earned the cooperation of Allegheny County, PA, to drill for natural gas underneath the 1,180 acre Deer Lakes Park, about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

In what was reportedly a heated meeting on Tuesday among Allegheny County Council and the public, the measure was passed by a vote of 9-5 after hours of public debate, weeks of public hearings and a proposal that was first submitted last year by Range's leasing agent Huntley & Huntley Inc. (see Shale DailyDec. 12, 2013).

After the vote, local media reports indicated that residents opposed to the measure began to chant in opposition and obscenities were exchanged between the public and at least one member of council. The terms of the five-year lease provide the county a $4.7 million signing bonus, a $3 million park improvement fund and 18% in production royalties.

Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said plans call for an additional five wells with up to 10,000 foot laterals to extend under the park's property. Drilling is barred inside the park and the lease also sets forth some stringent conditions including additional water testing and a provision that requires the company to host two job fairs in the county, among other things (see Shale DailyMarch 18).

Range has already drilled nearly 20 wells near the park since 2009 and four gas wells already exist on the proposed location, which is roughly 1,000 feet from the park's boundaries. Other operators have also drilled more than 100 wells in the area, and Range had indicated that it would continue drilling there with or without the county's cooperation.

The company expects to start its new wells later this year, and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who worked closely on the deal, commended the county's decision to approve the lease.

"The county's participation in this lease allows us to further protect our community with additional environmental enhancements while also bringing revenues to our parks," he said. "Allegheny County taxpayers benefit by having revenue that doesn't come from our property taxes to invest in our parks and our county."

Only one council member abstained from the vote, while at least one advocacy group said the fight is not yet over. In a statement released after the vote, Protect Our Parks, a group formed to oppose Range's proposal, said it was considering court action to stop drilling underneath the park.

The council's latest move comes a little more than one year after it approved Consol Energy Inc.'s plan to drill up to 45 Marcellus Shale wells on six pads at the Pittsburgh International Airport in a deal that could be worth more than $500 million over the next 20 years (see Shale DailyFeb. 21, 2013).

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