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Allegheny council committee approves drilling at airport

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 7:06 p.m.

Gas drilling at Pittsburgh International Airport could get final approval next week because an Allegheny County Council committee on Thursday voted in support of a deal with Consol Energy Inc.

Council's Public Works Committee voted to approve the estimated $500 million deal with four members in favor, one opposed and one abstaining.

Supporters said they felt confident that county and Airport Authority officials were working effectively with Consol to secure a good deal, to plan for safe work at the site and to use the money to boost economic development near the airport.

“Marcellus shale drilling is just another part of life that we have to move forward economically,” said County Council Vice President Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont, echoing comments of other supporters. “The environmental part of what could happen is something that we have to understand. We're preparing for that.”

Along with Futules, Democrats Robert J. Macey of West Mifflin, Barbara Daly Danko of Regent Square and Michael J. Finnerty of Scott voted in favor. William Robinson, D-Hill District, voted no, and Republican Matt Drozd of Ross abstained.

Six anti-drilling protesters sat in the front row, holding heart-shaped signs that said: “Love your children & grandchildren vote no on fracking.”

The Airport Authority in December chose Cecil-based Consol to drill on about 9,000 acres of land at the Findlay airport. County and airport officials spent years debating and plotting how to profit from the gas-rich shale under their land. That could come to an end at council's regular meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, when the full council plans to take a final vote.

Federal rules require the money to stay at the airport, preventing the county from getting any of the gas royalties and land bonuses, a sticking point for Robinson. He said county officials misrepresented the deal's value to the county government — which owns the airport land — and had trouble voting for it if the county budget couldn't benefit.

Consol and the Airport Authority will host one more session before voting, an open house to talk about the safety risks and precautions, said Dennis Davin, director of county economic development and the Airport Authority's board treasurer. It is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in the Findlay Township Activity Center, 310 Main St.

Even with final approval, drilling is unlikely to start before summer 2014, with production opening in 2016, officials have said.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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