Politicians cheer Pittsburgh airport gas drilling

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IMPERIAL – The start of natural gas drilling near the Pittsburgh International Airport was cheered Monday by Pennsylvania politicians from both parties.


The ceremony to celebrate the recent start of drilling featured remarks by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, Democratic County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy and local leaders.


Fitzgerald said the vast majority of people he talked to support the Consol Energy Inc. project, which ultimately could bring more than $500 million in royalties to the Allegheny County Airport Authority. Consol, which is based in Southpointe, Cecil Township, plans to drill a total of 45 wells from six pads over the next few years. The wells will tap into the gas-rich Marcellus Shale about 7,000 feet underground.


“This is a great day for this region and this county,” Fitzgerald said, noting Consol expects to spend an additional $500 million on drilling and related work. He said local people “see the jobs, they see the economic growth that comes into the community.”


Allegheny County approved the project in early 2013, and some residents in nearby communities expressed concerns about noise, traffic and air pollution.


The first well pad is in a remote wooded area about a mile from runways, but some future wells will be about one-quarter of a mile away. The airport authority owns about 9,000 acres of land.


Brad Lawer, a construction coordinator for Consol, said the drilling has significant environmental improvements compared to how the industry operated a few years ago. The briny wastewater that comes up from the ground during drilling is recycled on site, greatly reducing truck traffic. And the line of huge motors that power the drilling are electric, not diesel, resulting in lower emissions of pollution.


Corbett and Murphy both stressed the benefits of domestically produced natural gas, as opposed to imports from the Middle East.


“We need to create jobs in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said, adding that the airport project shows that drilling “can be done with a balance” between environmental protections and energy needs.


Consol paid a $50 million signing bonus, and Fitzgerald said the money already helped airport finances, which suffered in recent years because of a significant reduction in flights. The airport said it will use royalties to lower airline costs in hopes of attracting more flights, and for capital improvements.


Consol, which began as a coal company and is celebrating its 150th anniversary, said drilling started about 10 days ago. Production is expected to begin early next year.


The Federal Aviation Administration reviewed the project and approved the plan, along with state and local authorities.


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