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Consol makes drilling deal for park site

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Consol Energy Inc. will get to drill for gas under Ryerson Station State Park in exchange for paying to rebuild the park's dam and settling an eight-year conflict with the state, officials plan to announce on Wednesday.

The deal suggests a coming end to a troubled situation in Greene County.

Park officials drained Duke Lake behind the dam in July 2005 when it began leaking 80 gallons a minute. The lake has been dry since, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources fought Consol in court over allegations that subsidence from longwall mining in Richhill caused the cracks.

Sources familiar with the deal confirmed the agreement but declined to give details before a department news conference.

State Rep. Pam Snyder said Gov. Tom Corbett signed off on the deal in which Consol will pay.

“This has been a long eight years for the residents of West Greene and the rest of Greene County,” said Snyder, a Democrat and former Greene County commissioner. “They deserve to have (the dam) brought back to the way it was.”

Mediator Thomas B. Rutter proposed that Consol pay “a very substantial sum” to fix the problems — among other concessions — and the company, in return, could drill horizontal gas wells beneath the park from surface plots it controls outside the park, according to his February report.

State officials estimated dam reconstruction at $21.77 million. If they won in court, the settlement could rise to $29 million, Rutter wrote.

The Department of Environmental Protection also signed the deal, spokesman Kevin Sunday said. It agreed only not to sue Consol for damages from the loss of the dam, he said.

DEP had intervened in the case in November 2010. It ruled against Consol, saying it should pay to rebuild the dam and more than $1 million for costs from responding to the problems there.

Residents want the dam rebuilt and expressed little opposition to allowing Consol to drill for gas if the company ensures it won't happen within the park, Rutter wrote after a January public hearing.

Snyder did not have details of the settlement, and Commissioner Archie Trader said county officials hadn't received any. He heard three weeks ago that lawyers were working on a settlement and that DCNR referred it directly to Corbett, he said.

“I think the decision was made very quickly because they want to get to work on the dam,” Trader said.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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