PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s an international airport, but it may also soon be the site of Marcellus Shale gas drilling.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority is asking gas exploration companies how much money could be made by leasing airport land for drilling.

The county says it could be a windfall for taxpayers, but environmentalists say, not so fast.

For years now, farmers and big landowners have been getting rich by leasing their land for drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says it’s time the taxpayers reap the same benefits.

“A way to help the taxpayer, but a way to grow the economy,” said Fitzgerald.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority is requesting proposals from shale gas exploration companies to see how much money leasing airport land could fetch.

Of the airport’s 9,000 acres, only half are taken up by runways and facilities, and the county is offering tracts of vacant land for bid.

Allegheny County Aviation Director Brad Penrod says drilling would not impact air traffic.

“We are primarily an airport, so we would stay away from the runway and work to the north and south of the airfield,” said Penrod.

According to federal rules, the money must stay at the airport, not general funds, and the authority is hopeful it can spur more airport business development.

“All I hear about is money,” said environmentalists Lisa Marcucci. “I think they should refocus on health.

Marcucci says even drilling on the remote land could have negative impacts on land, air and water, and she wants a spirited public debate.

“This is land that’s owned by the taxpayer or Allegheny,” she says. “This isn’t owned by the authority or the elected officials. This is owned by the taxpayers, and the taxpayers need to weigh in. This shouldn’t be decided in boardrooms.”

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