Commissioners may permit gas drilling beneath airport

January 8, 2014
Landing gear goes up as a Cesssna twin-engine 310 takes off from the Washington County Airport, as seen from Mounts Road in South Franklin Township in this file photo. The county commissioners may allow gas well drilling underneath the airport property. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The Washington County commissioners expect to vote today on a proposal to permit drilling for natural gas under 135 acres of the county airport.

County Solicitor J. Lynn DeHaven emphasized the lease with Range Resources and EQT includes no surface rights within the airport so flight paths would remain unobstructed.

William McGowen, executive director of the Washington County Redevelopment Authority, which administers the airport on the county’s behalf, said property owners in the vicinity of the airport, which lies in both North and South Franklin townships, banded together to form a 10,000-acre tract.

“It could begin as soon as this summer,” commission Chairman Larry Maggi said of drilling for natural gas in the airport area. “Actual drilling will be done off our property. The Bureau of Aviation and Federal Aviation Administration have safety requirements.”

The lease calls for land owners to receive $6,400 per acre and, when production begins, a royalty of 18.25 percent.

The airport includes about 360 acres but when the county acquired the land, some sellers retained mineral rights to their property.

Marcellus Shale development at the airport is the latest in a series of county-owned land. The county commissioners decided late last year to advertise for proposals to extract natural gas and oil from Mingo Creek County Park in Nottingham Township. A similar feeler a few years ago resulted in no takers, but county officials said it was likely because of timing because the bottom was falling out of the economy. DeHaven said recently he is still preparing the specifications so that advertisement will likely be months away.

The county’s lease with Range Resources yielded $8.5 million between 2007 and 2013 from wells at Cross Creek County Park, and the county treasury is also collecting revenue from leases in Arden, home to the fairgrounds and health center, and the Panhandle Trail, none of which include surface drilling rights.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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