Pittsburgh International Airport drilling open house draws 150


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Residents of Findlay and several other communities near proposed Marcellus Shale drilling sites at the Pittsburgh International Airport lined up Monday night to peer at maps, pore over chemical disclosure forms and ask questions about the drilling process used by Consol Energy Inc.

Whether they oppose natural gas drilling, can't wait for it to start or simply worry about what, if any, effects it might have on their property values, few of the approximately 150 residents attending the open house seemed undecided about the drilling at the airport that is likely to start next year.

"We're ready," said Terry Mamone of Findlay, who is paying tuition for her 20-year-old son to attend college and already has leased gas rights on the family's 243-acre property to Range Resources. "I'm getting to the point in my life when I'd like to spend some money."

But it's not just about their own personal finances, added her son, Merico Mamone of Findlay.

"Why not do it here? Bring some jobs in, money in, tax revenue in," Mr. Mamone said.

Allegheny County officials announced Feb. 7 that Consol will pay an estimated $500 million over the next 20 years for the right to drill for shale gas on 9,263 acres surrounding the airport, which is in Findlay and Moon. The payment would include an upfront bonus payment of $50 million and an estimated $450 million in royalties over the next two decades.

County officials have said Cecil-based Consol also plans to invest another $500 million in drilling-related infrastructure and other costs. About 50 wells would be drilled on the property, which is zoned for heavy industrial, airport and business park use and would not need any rezoning for drilling to take place, according to the airport authority's senior development director, Randy Forister.

Allegheny County Council is expected to vote on the agreement tonight. Local municipalities, along with the airport authority and the Federal Aviation Administration, will have control over where exactly the wells are located and how their construction will be managed.

But while county, airport and Consol officials tout the economic benefits of drilling, the proceeds of which would go to lower gate fees and support infrastructure at the airport, not all residents were convinced.

Findlay resident Bill Hovanec, for one, questioned Consol officials about the toll that construction of the drilling pads and possible leaks of the hydraulic fracturing solution used to break open the shale might take on the local environment.

"Are you going to make my community just a big trash dump?" Mr. Hovanec asked. "I've seen beautiful trees and streams flattened into basically a garbage pile -- is that what's going to happen here, too?"

There is some temporary disruption of the environment while the drilling pad is being constructed, with trucks, lights, noise, people and dirt, just like at any construction site, answered Consol official Joe Swearman. But there is a double wall around the wells to contain any fracking fluid, monitors to send an alarm in case of any leakage, and monitoring wells outside the well to test the safety of surrounding water.

As for the landscape, he said, it could well be a grassy field with some gravel roads through it within a year.

"Nothing that resembles a trash dump, by any means," he said.

It wasn't just water quality and construction upheaval but long-term property devaluation that worried other Findlay residents. Jan Lach, who lives on Ponderosa Drive as little as 1,000 feet from a proposed well site, said he believes noise from the wells -- even after all the admittedly noisy construction and drilling has taken place -- could be so great that drinking a beer at his backyard fire pit or taking a swim in his pool just won't be the same. And if he tries to sell his home, he said, he worries it might not be worth as much or might be harder to sell.

"I'm not opposed to drilling, don't get me wrong -- I'm not opposed to it at all," Mr. Lach said. "I just don't want it behind my house."

Mr. Forister, the airport authority official, said residents don't need to worry about noise on the well sites after pad construction and drilling is completed. Nor do they need to fear lost property value.

"You can stand on the site and barely hear the equipment once the drilling is complete," he said. "I'm not in the guarantee business, but I can tell you from experience that property values will do what they're going to do regardless of whether we drill or not."

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Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com.


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