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Grassroots Effort Working To Fight Fracking In Allegheny County Parks

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- There's 12,000 acres in nine Allegheny County parks that 11 million people visit each year.

"We escape there to experience nature, to show our kids the gems of our community, to hike and run and bike and recreate, and we cannot put this at risk," said Erica Stafford, of Penn Environment.

So, the Protect Our Parks organization has been created to fight fracking in or under the county parks.

"There is no proposal to drill in the Allegheny County parks," said Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald says the only discussion is to allow drilling on private land to come underneath Deer Lakes Park horizontally way beneath the surface.

"Eight-thousand feet below our parks, so it will have no effect on our park land," said Fitzgerald. "The only effect it would have on park land would be to give us money to improve the parks."

Which he says is in desperate need with minimal resources available.

"Just getting a few new benches or a couple of pavilions, that's not going to help if the park is polluted," said Tom Hoffman, of Clean Water Action.

What could the Deer Lakes deal bring in?

"We anticipate that there could be a bonus payment in excess of $3 million," said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald also says a half million each year in royalty payments.

"I think people still are not aware really of the potential risk and how often methane migrates out of these well casings," Jennifer Myers, of Protect Our Parks, said.

"Its exposure can cause leukemia, birth defects and breast cancer, and we don't want that," said Ted Poppavich, of Group Against Smog and Pollution.

Fitzgerald says the county is a long way from any kind of agreement, and won't rule out similar consideration at the other parks if offers come in.

"I think it would be irresponsible of us not to take a look at it," said Fitzgerald.

One county councilman wants to let the public vote each time Allegheny county tries to lease county park land for drilling by the oil and gas industry, but fellow council members say Matt Drozd's proposed referendum is too premature, since there is no ordinance before council on drilling in or under county parks.

Watch Kym Gable's report:

"You're talking about something that doesn't exist. This is nothing but rumor ... as of today," said councilman Nick Futules at Tuesday night's regular council meeting.

Drozd responded, "Don't you want people to have a say when you talk about millions under their feet, whether it comes out or not, don't you want that?"

Carrie White, of Fawn Township, was one of the "Protect Our Parks" protestors who spoke out at the council meeting.

"These parks belong to the people of these communities, the taxpayers that have sustained them for the sole purpose of wildlife preservation and recreation," said White.

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