PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In addition to the flights coming and going on the runways of Pittsburgh International Airport, Allegheny County is looking at the economic potential of leasing tens of thousands of empty acres for shale gas drilling.

And the potential revenues are impressive.

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“We’re hoping to get $30 to $35 million up front and ongoing revenue of $3 million a year for 30 years,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald is asking County Council for the authorization to lease airport land for drilling, potentially entering into a 30-year deal with CONSOL Energy.

Fitzgerald says drilling could be a much needed a shot in the arm for the ailing, under-used airport — reducing costs and bringing in more carriers.

But before council votes, he says the public will have its say.

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“We’re going to have public hearings and if the public can make a good case why we shouldn’t drill at the airports. Council will consider that, and I will consider that,” Fitzgerald said.

But drilling opponents, like former City Councilman Doug Shields, call Fitzgerald’s offer of a public hearing a sham, saying the decision to drill has already been made — not only at Pittsburgh International but at the County Airport down the road.

“We’ll have the hearings, then we’ll frack. Sort of like, we’ll have the trial, then we’ll hang them,” Shields said. “He is committed to this, and yet, he has done nothing that I’m aware of to bring this to a cogent discussion.”

Shields says the public should have been involved prior to any discussion with potential drillers.

“No due diligence, no community discussion, no environmental impact statement,” he said.

But the County says the public will be heard, and the pros and cons of airport drilling will be heard before any land is leased.

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