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300 attend open house on Consol drilling plans at Pittsburgh airport

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By Timothy Puko
Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Consol Energy, a company with about 100 years of Pittsburgh history, is treating Allegheny County like a brand-new home.

On the verge of striking a $500 million deal for gas drilling on county property, the Cecil-based company held an open house on Monday night that attracted about 300 people to the Findlay Township Activity Center to learn about Consol's plan to drill at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The company posted more than 40 employees in red polo shirts outside of the hall to answer questions and hand out fliers. It based the meeting on five open houses the company held a year ago in Ohio before tapping gas-rich Utica shale.

With large-scale drilling moving closer to the region's urban core, more people are interested in how it will work, said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

“They all told me just what I wanted to hear,” said Joe Berreth, 54, of Findlay. “I just wanted to see what they were going to do. Would they hurt the land, the water, the air? They tell me no. Do I believe them? Well, I hope they're right.”

The meeting fit an ongoing effort by drillers around the country with a revolution in domestic oil and gas production under way.

Everywhere drillers go, people have questions, said Craig Neal, a vice president in Consol's gas division. Companies have tried to engage residents and to make corporate officials available to calm fears about environmental and public safety risks.

County Council plans to vote at its 5 p.m. meeting Tuesday on a deal that would allow the county Airport Authority to lease mineral rights to Consol. The company would pay a $50 million up-front bonus to the authority and royalties over several years that could total hundreds of millions of dollars.

County officials have been pushing the plan as a way to upgrade airport-controlled land for more commerce and office developments.

It could even help the environment, said Mark A. Fedosick, president of the Montour Run Watershed Association. Officials there hope Consol will use mine drainage for the millions of gallons of water it will need to use to drill at the airport, helping to clear up a decades-old pollution problem, he said.

Several residents were concerned about well pads within about 1,000 feet of residential neighborhoods. Others are still upset at the county for taking land to build the airport.

“I'm afraid the residents of Findlay are not going to get the revenue that they should,” said Mike Leber, 60, whose family has lived in the township since 1816. County and airport officials need to spend the money fairly, and Consol has to back up its claims of responsible, safe work, he said.

“They have a lot of pamphlets and brochures ... and I'm all for drilling — don't misunderstand me — but this is all for show,” Leber said.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Tr ib Total Media. He can be r eached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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