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Washington County OKs natural gas drilling at airport

| Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, 1:36 p.m.

Washington County commissioners on Thursday approved a permit to allow natural gas drilling under the county airport.

The unanimous 3-0 vote opens 135 acres to drilling by Canonsburg-based energy firm Range Resources. The county will receive a $6,400-per-acre lease, or a total of $864,000, plus an 18.25 percent royalty once production begins — a higher price because of negotiating with a large coalition of mineral rights owners.

EQT also was involved in negotiating a deal with the entire coalition, though the Downtown Pittsburgh-based company will not be involved in drilling at the Washington County Airport, said Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella.

No surface rights on the property are included in the deal, and the firms have not given a timetable to conduct drilling.

“We're currently in the planning process,” Pitzarella said. “We plan to drill. The leases are for five years, and we don't plan on letting them expire.”

Washington County since 2009 has collected nearly $11 million from drilling deals on other public properties, including Cross Creek Park and the county fairgrounds, Commissioner Larry Maggi said. Bids are being sought for a drilling contract beneath Mingo Creek State Park.

“It helps us keep the county taxes low,” Maggi said.

Money from previous drilling projects has been spent to improve parks and make repairs to the courthouse and other county buildings.

Commissioners plan to use money from this drilling deal to leverage federal and state funds to improve the airport.

“We're trying to make it a regional player,” Maggi said.

The airport, built in 1947, is on about 400 acres and has 34 T-hangars, 10 corporate hangars and seven aviation businesses. It does not service commercial flights.

Pending projects include refurbishing the terminal building, adding hangar space and repaving the runway, taxiways and aprons. Other possible improvements are planned, such as extending the single, 5,000-foot runway, as part of an airport strategic plan commissioners approved in 2011.

Allegheny County officials last year contracted with Consol Energy to drill for natural gas on 8,807 acres at Pittsburgh International Airport. That deal could bring $500 million in fees and gas royalties paid over two decades to the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

Consol is seeking federal approval of its drilling plans in regard to air pollution limits.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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