PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Marcellus Shale drilling adjacent and under Pittsburgh International Airport moved a step closer to reality on Friday, as members of Airport Authority voted unanimously to support a deal with Consol Energy.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time about we certainly have enough space at the airport. It’s an ideal space to start in Allegheny County with drilling, so I think we’re all excited about it,” said County Councilwoman Jan Rea, a member of the Authority.
Under the deal, Consol will pay an upfront signing fee of $50 million to the Authority once the deal is signed — with another $450 million in royalties expected over the next 20 years.
“Is this a good deal for taxpayers in Allegheny County?” KDKA money editor Jon Delano asked Brad Penrod, Authority president.
“Absolutely,” said Penrod. “It allows us to make the airport much more attractive, lowering rates and charges to the airlines. It allows us to make capital improvements to the airport that otherwise couldn’t be done. It allows us to make economic development projects happen on the airport.”
Airport officials hope that by lowering gate fees they can attract more airlines to Pittsburgh, as well as upgrade the tired look of the 20-year-old facility.
Consol Energy President Nick DeIuliis says the deal is also good for his shareholders and means jobs for the region.
“We’re going to hire incrementally at Consol to get that additional drilling done at the airport with that opportunity,” said DeIuliis. “There’s also going to be that multiplier effect with all the other residual jobs with what I call upstream and downstream of the actually drilling itself to make that happen.”
Consol officials say each well requires about 400 workers, and they plan for at least 50 wells on airport property. That translates into 20,000 workers.
As for the use of the money, since the gas is on airport authority land, the half a billion dollars it will receive must — under the law — be used at the airport — and not diverted for other county needs.
For those who use the airport, is it safe to drill for natural gas under and nearby the airport?
There are mixed feelings even in the same family.
“I have concerns about the things that we’ve seen up our way — wildlife protection, water,” noted Sam Oesterling of Portersville
“I don’t have any objections to it because it’s not necessarily a residential area,” responded his wife, Janet.
If the deal is approved by county council, Consol will construct at least six pads on airport property for fifty to sixty wells — each well will drill down over a mile and spider out to frack and capture natural gas.
“The pads are located so that we envision that they are out of the way and will not interfere with operations under either normal or abnormal situations,” said Penrod.
Penrod says the closest pad will be a couple thousand feet from the run-way and says the Federal Aviation Administration has strict rules to prevent the drilling from impacting travel.
“We are proposing locations that will be reviewed one more time by the FAA.”
DeIuliis of Consol says he understands the concerns but before any drilling the parties will work out all disaster contingencies.
“I think you will find that the development will do so in a way that airplane safety or flight safety is not an issue.”
Besides the FAA approvals, Consol says there is so much bedrock and distance between the fracking a mile and a half below the airport that passengers need not worry.
Now when will construction begin?
If county council signs off on the deal on Feb. 19, Consol says watch for drilling to start during the summer of 2014.