Consol offers assurances in Findlay about airport drilling safety

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Findlay's board of supervisors said last month that they wanted to hear more about Consol Energy's emergency response plan before giving the company the go-ahead for gas drilling near Pittsburgh International Airport.

They heard much more Wednesday night, but ultimately the supervisors decided not to take a vote on whether or not to approve Consol's conditional use permits.

The supervisors must make a decision within the next 45 days.

Consol representatives, as well as representatives of Allegheny County, walked members of Findlay's three-person board, the township's staff and residents through safety precautions for the planned natural gas drilling operation on about 9,000 acres of county-owned land surrounding the airport.

Safety is not "just a talking point," said Lou Barletta, vice president of safety for Consol.

He said Consol would have safety personnel on site seven days a week, and would be on call at all times.

During a presentation that lasted more than an hour, Consol officials pointed to safety precautions including double valves on all wellheads, the use of gas monitoring equipment, the use of electric rather than diesel drilling rigs, the use of blowout preventers and emergency shutdown devices on all well pads.

Rick Wilson, fire chief for Pittsburgh International, said there have been "hundreds of meetings" regarding safety and drilling at the airport.

Alvin Henderson, chief of the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services, said, too, that there have been "hundreds of hours spent looking at various scenarios" to produce what he called a "very sound emergency response plan."

But Findlay residents said they still had concerns, especially about the location of Well Pad 2. The well is less than a half-mile from residents of Findlay's Imperial Pointe neighborhood.

"We feel that there are risks," said Stacy Faulk, an Imperial Pointe resident.

Other residents who spoke said they were concerned the Consol safety plan focused more on protecting their employees than on residents.

"There was nothing that was for the safety of the public closest to where these wells are going to be," said Marilyn Barron, another resident of Imperial Pointe.

Wednesday night's was the second public hearing Findlay has held regarding Consol's drilling plans at the airport. About 75 people attended.

The Cecil-based company's plan calls for the construction of six well pads, with at least 45 Marcellus and Upper Devonian wells and three water impoundments.

Consol signed a deal with the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which was approved a year ago by Allegheny County Council, to drill near the airport. Consol's contract yielded a $50 million bonus to the airport authority, with an additional $450 million expected in royalty payments over the next 20 years, with further plans to spend another $500 million in infrastructure improvements.

Consol has said it plans to start construction for its airport operations in the second quarter of this year, with plans to start initial drilling of wells in July. The Allegheny County Health Department has said it will conduct air monitoring before and after drilling begins.

At last month's public hearing, residents expressed concerns about issues ranging from potential noise from drilling operations to increases in road traffic to the location of Well Pad 2.

Safety, too, was a major focus at the Feb. 20 hearing, which came just nine days after a Marcellus Shale gas well owned by Chevron in Dunkard, Greene County, exploded, leading to the death of one worker.

Findlay supervisors said their decision to continue last month's public hearing to Wednesday night was so they could first see the environmental assessment, which was made available for public review the day after last month's public hearing, and Consol's emergency response plan, a 103-page document that was delivered to Findlay staff last week.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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