PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Shouts of “shame, shame, shame” followed Allegheny County Council’s approval in May of shale gas drilling below its 1,200-acre Deer Lakes Park.
By a 9-5 majority, the lease was approved despite a petition garnered by environmentalists and an ethics complaint they filed against Councilman Nick Futules, whom they said has a business relationship with one of the drilling companies.
“Well that’s a direct conflict of interest, and we filed a complaint with the state Ethics Board,” said Mel Packer, of the Coalition to Protect Parks.
In the past two weeks, state ethics investigators have interviewed the filers of the petitions, other councilmembers and grilled Futules himself last Friday for several hours.
They asked him about a family-owned gas well in Oakmont drilled by Huntley and Huntley, which was granted to the Deer Lakes lease along with Range Resources.
Futules said he had no conflict of interest since he stood to gain nothing financially for his yes vote on the lease.
“The fact that I have a gas well and I know the safety factors and the dangers, I was comfortable with the fact that I thought it was a good investment for the county to move forward,” said Futules.
But environmentalist went further, accusing Futules of moving the lease bill out of his Parks and Recreation Committee without allowing dissent.
“That’s not an independent hearing, and Nick Futules is responsible for that,” said Packer.
“I did not steer votes. In fact, I told all the individual council members that votes would be their own individual decision and I had no bearing on that whatsoever,” Futules said.
Regardless of how the Ethics Commission rules, it’s not likely to affect drilling outside of Deer Lakes; although, controversy about the decision is far from settled.