Consol announces electric rigs for Pittsburgh International Airport drilling

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Hours after Consol Energy Inc. announced it would use electricity to power the rigs that would drill under Pittsburgh International Airport, James Cahill drove up from Somerset to learn more.

Mr. Cahill is president and CEO of Somerset-based Keystone Air & Drill Supply Co., a company that assembles compressors and boosters for drilling rigs. For the past six months, Keystone has been developing rig parts that would be powered by electricity, rather than the conventional diesel fuel.

"I've just been fascinated with this project," Mr. Cahill said of Consol's plan to drill 45 Marcellus wells on airport property over the next several years. "I hope I get a chance to be part of it."

It won't be Consol placing the order for such parts, Mr. Cahill said, but he plans to be in touch with Consol's contractors, HAD Inc. and Patterson UTI Drilling. They will be retrofitting vertical and horizontal rigs to electric engines, which emit less pollution and noise.

That was Consol's major change, announced Tuesday, to its plan for drilling 45 Marcellus wells on airport property.

Drilling is expected to start during the fourth quarter of 2014.

Cecil-based Consol turned to electricity to cut air emissions on the project that would otherwise exceed federally-imposed emission caps. Allegheny County is considered to be in nonattainment with federal air quality standards.

This is a first for Consol, and for its rig suppliers, said Katharine Fredriksen, senior vice president of environmental strategy and regulatory affairs at Consol. "It's drilling avant-garde innovation."

Electric rigs boost the expense by "an appreciable amount," Ms. Fredriksen said, "but it's not uneconomic."

Elsewhere at the company, Consol is still evaluating dual-fuel technology and has converted three rigs to run on both diesel and natural gas.

"We looked at dual fuel for the airport," Ms. Fredriksen said. "But because it's a federal nonattainment county, we couldn't make it work."

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald praised the move to electricity as an example of "site-specific enhancements" that could be negotiated with a company in a public-private partnership.

"That's one of the things that we might be considering" when thinking about the county's plans to lease acreage in parks for oil and gas development, he said. But Mr. Fitzgerald cautioned that unlike at the airport, the county's leverage in dictating operations under the parks would be minor because drilling wouldn't occur on the surface but would, instead, take place on private land with horizontal wells stretching under the parks.

Consol, county and airport officials gathered Tuesday to give an update on the drilling plan for the airport. The company submitted its major environmental assessment to the Federal Aviation Administration Nov. 18 and is accepting public comments until Dec. 31. The document will be made available to the public in February.

Renee Thomas, project manager for Consol, said so far the majority of FAA's feedback has been to ask for more information about the oil and gas drilling and fracking process.

The major elements of the plan haven't changed in the past several months. There are still six well pad locations and three water impoundments. But things have shifted in response to public comments and in order to avoid environmental impacts, officials said.

For example, the well pads are generally smaller than what Consol would otherwise design in an unrestricted location.

Tuesday's meeting, which was scheduled a few hours before Findlay Township's planning commission meeting, drew some township residents curious about well pad locations and traffic safety, but not as many as had attended previous meetings.

Residents of Imperial Pointe development have asked the company to move one of its well pads further from their housing development, fearing air quality impacts and noise.

Consol said it wasn't considering relocating the pad, but officials said switching to electric rigs should alleviate those concerns.

Joseph Zoka, general manager of gas operations at Consol, and Tim Love, manager of gathering for central Pennsylvania, reassured several residents that Consol would use local labor and materials to the extent possible.

The steel pipes will come from U.S. Steel, Mr. Love said. They will be coated at Dura Bond in McKeesport. The pipe will most likely be put in by Alex E. Paris Contracting, in Atlasburg, he said.

"We want people who live here to be getting paychecks out of it," Mr. Love said.

Anya Litvak: or 412-263-1455.

Anya Litvak: or 412-263-1455. First Published December 17, 2013 4:11 PM

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