Airport drilling raises concern in Findlay

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While the plan to drill for natural gas at Pittsburgh International Airport has regional impact, it also raises issues for residents of Findlay, home of the airport.

Township homeowners were prominent among hundreds of people who attended an open house in Imperial Monday on the $500 million deal for Consol Energy Inc. to drill about 50 wells on airport property. Allegheny County Council voted to accept a contract from Consol Tuesday to drill in the 9,000 acres surrounding the airport.

The Monday session consisted of about 300 in Findlay Activity Center in Imperial and included residents, representatives of the Allegheny County Airport Authority and elected officials from the West Allegheny School District and Findlay, and the county and state levels.

About 50 Consol Energy employees, all wearing red shirts, answered questions and supplied information about leasing, the drilling process, hydraulic fracturing -- fracking -- Marcellus formations, and protection of water and the environment.

Many residents, especially those from the Imperial Pointe and Westbury neighborhoods, were concerned about the proximity of proposed Marcellus Shale wells to their homes.

Marion McKeegan of Imperial Pointe said she was worried nearby wells would decrease her property value. "I'm concerned about the noise, the smell, the traffic, how it's going to affect my home," she said.

Bob Miller, also of Imperial Pointe, said drilling can be done safely by following government regulations and using appropriate technology.

"If everybody does what they're supposed to ... I think things are going to work out," he said.

Randy Forister, senior development director for the Airport Authority, said the neighborhood nearest a proposed well is Imperial Pointe, but he declined to cite distances between homes and wells because well locations have not been finalized.

Drilling is expected to begin in late 2014 or early 2015, he said.

The Airport Authority will need to show compliance with Findlay's drilling regulations and gain conditional use approval from supervisors -- a process that involves public comment.

Township manager Gary Klingman said supervisors also will have to take into consideration Act 13, the state drilling law.

Supervisors said their biggest concern about drilling is the proximity of wells to residential areas.

"It's going to be a big deal," supervisor Janet Craig said. "The financial benefits are going to be great, but these financial rewards are going to be secondary to the safety of our residents."

While it's too early for exact figures, Mr. Klingman said drilling could increase township revenues via state impact fees from wells, earned income and local services taxes from workers, and indirect boosts to local businesses. But the township also will spend money on public services and roads, he said.

"We're going to be putting out for that industry as well, to accommodate [them]," Mr. Klingman said.

Carol McIntyre and her neighbor, Kim Cox, were worried about contamination of their water wells in Imperial, opposite airport property.

Ms. McIntyre said Consol did not satisfy her questions: "They're saying what they want you to hear."

Consol representatives "have been happy to inform us," said Susan Tarasenkov of Clinton. A civil engineer, she said she is concerned about environmental effects, community safety and "any disruption to the community, whether it be trucks, noise, egress, traffic."

Consol spokeswoman Lynn Seay said the open house was designed so attendees could interact with staff and not wait in long lines.

"It's all about being open and fostering communication," she said.

Chuck Cain of Clinton said he attended the open house because he "was curious where they're going to drill and how residents would benefit, if at all."

Herb Yothers of Westbury said that in the early 1990s, some properties were taken by eminent domain for future airport expansion. "It was supposed to be for public use, and now they're going to drill and make all kinds of money on it," he said. "The original property owners should have that money, not the airport."

Diane Draganosky of Westbury was concerned about the possibility of deer drinking polluted water.

Laurie Lalama of Westbury was concerned about damage from earth disturbance. "We spent all this money to build this brand-new house, and now something can happen to it," she said.

Mark Fedosick of Crescent, president of the Montour Run Watershed Association, said the airport plan could benefit the stream if water that's already polluted by acid mine drainage were removed from the watershed to be used in the fracking process.

marcellusshale - neigh_west

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer:


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