Consol details plans for drilling wells on Pittsburgh International Airport property

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 2:12 p.m.

Consol Energy Inc. plans to keep its drilling at Pittsburgh International Airport from becoming a public eyesore, earning plaudits from several locals eager to learn more about one of the highest-profile drilling projects in the state.

The company detailed plans on Tuesday to drill 47 wells over five years on airport property, using hills and ridges to hide the project from public view.

The deal could bring an estimated $500 million for Marcellus shale drilling on 8,807 acres of airport property and brings shale drilling closer to Pittsburgh's urban core and densely populated suburbs.

Officials revealed their plans before starting an environmental assessment they need to gain approval of the airport's federal regulators. They also spent the afternoon taking public input for the assessment.

The work will begin in spring 2014, and most of that money will start to arrive after gas starts to flow from the wells in summer 2015, said Consol officials, who joined officials from the Allegheny County Airport Authority to discuss the drilling plans.

About 200 residents showed up over a three-hour period to listen and ask questions. Many wanted to know where the wells were going to be located and were pleased to hear that Consol planned to keep them out of sight — and at least not near runways.

“When you say ‘drilling at the airport,' it's not a rig on top of the runway. Now I get it,” said Beth Feather of Moon.

Most of the pads will be on the outskirts of the airport land, with construction starting near the southern boundary of the property and then moving east. The first well will go in what's now a wooded area off of Route 30, about a third of a mile east of a neighborhood called Imperial Point. Consol can use sound barriers if it needs them, but company officials said they don't believe that's necessary.

“We hope so,” said Chris Caruso, assistant manager at Findlay. He was at the morning session on Tuesday, but the township will need more time to evaluate Consol's sound study, he said. “If it turns out to be true, that'd be great.”

The last two wells are the only ones on the northern side of the property. While they're both close to the two segments of Interstate 376 that surround the airport, even they will be mostly out of the public's view, said Randy Forister, the airport authority's development director. The last pad could be the most visible, but the public would have to leave Interstate 376 and get on Halverson Drive to see it, Forister said.

“You'll get a peek of the rig while the rigs are up, but other than that, I don't think you'll see much,” Forister said. “We've always had a good relationship with our neighbors, and we want to keep that. A lot of effort went into minimizing these impacts.”

For some residents, like John and Marlyn Walters from Imperial, the concern wasn't whether or not the wells would be out of sight. The Walters were worried that drilling would depreciate the value of their property. And they said neighbors are worried about noise and pollution.

“We hope for the best, but have to prepare for the worst,” said John Walters.

Residents around the airport in Findlay and Moon will be hearing a lot more from Consol. The Cecil-based company has hired a contractor to start seismic testing. It's also looking to negotiate more deals with people who own private property around the airport.

The company needs to carve room for a six-mile pipeline stretching from the southern boundary of airport land to just past the Washington County border.

The company is looking for other private property owners who control gas rights outside the airport, Consol officials said. The company's wells will stretch horizontally as long as 11,000 feet, so it could direct wells off the airport, too, tapping gas from more land.

One Moon resident, Richard Evanko, 80, showed up to the afternoon meeting to get more information about how he can get a piece of the deal.

“It would be fantastic financially,” said Evanko, whose family owns a stake in 29 acres of land along Moon Enlow Road and Interstate 376 Business. “The noise is going to be there, so you might as well benefit.”

Consol mapped its pipelines to connect well pads with both gas lines and water supply. It needs to have pipelines ready to take gas to market before the wells come online. The water pipelines will connect three water storage pits on site, each large enough to hold about 10 million to 16 million gallons of fresh water and wastewater to supply hydraulic fracture operations.

That process requires millions of gallons of water to crack the underground shale more than a mile deep, and then spread sand through the cracks to keep them open and free the gas. Consol is talking to municipal water suppliers in Findlay and Moon about buying water to supply those operations, its officials said.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or The Associated Press contributed.

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