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$1 billion expected from gas drilling on Pittsburgh airport property

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 11:30 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband
Maggie Henry of Bessemer Lawrence County attends a public hearing at Robert Morris University in Moon about whether to allow gas drilling on Pittsburgh International Airport property. She is against it. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

A deal to let Consol Energy drill for Marcellus shale gas on Pittsburgh International Airport property would generate $1 billion in revenue and improvements, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said during a public hearing on Thursday.

“The county Airport Authority has been working to negotiate the best deal possible, and I believe they have succeeded in coming up with something that will not only generate a lot of income, but create a lot of good-paying jobs,” Fitzgerald said following public comments at the hearing at Robert Morris University in Moon.

More than 300 people attended the hearing. Seven members of Allegheny County Council, which must approve the deal, were on hand to hear testimony. The Airport Authority board is scheduled to vote on the deal at its meeting on Friday.

Fitzgerald said the revised deal with Consol will result in a $50 million up-front bonus payment to the county, up from the $20.8 million that had been announced.

Over 20 years, the county would get $450 million in royalty payments instead of the $200 million to $250 million that originally was proposed.

Additionally, Consol is expected to invest $500 million in infrastructure such as road and utilities and other items needed for the drilling, Fitzgerald said.

Consol had not previously stated how much its investment would be.

“One of the biggest benefits is the fact that this deal will not require any taxpayer dollars,” Fitzgerald said.

A number of state and local elected officials as well as people associated with the drilling industry attended the meeting in support of the project.

A contingent of people opposed to the hydraulic fracking process used to extract natural gas from Marcellus shale also testified.

State Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, said while he is aware that “there is a lot of controversy and a lot of environmental concerns,” he believes the benefits outweigh the negatives.

“When you come from a place like mine (the Mon Valley), you could not imagine hitting a lottery ticket like Marcellus shale to create new jobs,” he said. “I challenge anyone to find an opportunity like this.”

Roger Creech, a supervisor from Morris in Greene County, where there are more than 100 wells, said while there were “a lot” of residents who raised concerns about drilling, the level of environmental monitoring has prevented problems.

“We have better roads now than we've ever had,” he said. “And there has been no change in our water quality.”

Many of those who attended believe the county should take more time to review the possible health and environmental impacts of drilling.

“Common sense tells me that it's a very bad idea to build well pads near an airport,” said Terri Supowitz of Wilkinsburg. “With drilling there's fracking, truck traffic, seismic testing with dynamite ... and often spills, leaks and fires.

“When that happens, what are you going to do, shut down the airport and evacuate the neighborhood?” she asked. “We don't know the consequences (of drilling), and we certainly don't know the unintended consequences.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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