Fracking Company Largely Ignores Central Issues At Hearing

Attorneys and witnesses for Olympus spoke at length about their concern that without the use of public property, they would be forced to send high numbers of water trucks over dilapidated roadways.  Commissioner Kuzma spoke repeatedly about how income generated by leasing the public land would be used to improve Blythedale Park over time.  One representative from Olympus admitted to drawing 160 million gallons of fresh water between August and October although the self-reported records held by the DEP showed only 24 million gallons drawn.

On November 5th, 2019, the Orphans’ Court of Allegheny County held a hearing on the freshwater pump station which Huntley & Huntley Exploration, now Olympus Energy, operates in Blythedale Park.  Protect Elizabeth Township, a group of concerned community members, challenged Huntley & Huntley’s use of public parklands as a private water withdrawal pump station for fracking infrastructure.  An organized group of community members and advocates from the region arrived in a show of support for Protect Elizabeth Township’s intervention in the hearing. Elizabeth Township Commissioner Andrew Kuzma and Solicitor, Mathew Racunas, along with representatives from Olympus Energy, argued a defense of the private use of the activity in the park.

Yet these arguments, and much of what was presented by the defense, distracted from the actual question before the judge. The pertinent question is whether the land could still be used as a public park.

The land was originally gifted to the township with the condition that it should always be used as public property. Because of this, the Donated and Dedicated Property Act governs how changes should be made. A central purpose of the Act is to help ensure a donator’s wishes are honored and so standards are high to prove that changes are justified. In the case of Blythedale, it is very much possible to use the parcel as a public park, as it was originally intended. 

Neighbors, users of the park, and the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper testified to the many ways the waterfront property is enjoyed by the public. Community members said that they have used the park for over 30 years, that their children now use the park, and that there was a trailhead for mountain bike trails where the pump station is situated. Lifelong residents of the area shared stories that illustrated the impactful role the park played in their upbringing and spoke about how it continues to do the same for the children and families today.

A decision will likely be made in mid-December.