Ready for Takeoff? Fracking at Pittsburgh Airport Could be Reality by '14

  • Dennis Davin, Director of Economic Development for the Allegheny County, and treasurer of the Allegheny County Airport Authority. Photo: Rachael Grace.

  • Ticketing at Pittsburgh International Airport. Eight million visitors passed through the airport last year, a drop of three percent. Gas money could help lower costs and lure flights back, the airport says. Photo: Reid R. Frazier.

  • A photograph of the airport taken from the air hangs at the Airport Authority's meeting room. Photo: Raechel Grace.

Less than a day after a raucous meeting over plans to drill at Pittsburgh International Airport, the airport’s governing body gave its imprimatur to a plan. The Allegheny County Airport Authority approved the plan to lease gas drilling rights to Consol Energy, in a plan that would net the airport upwards of $500 million over the next 20 years.

Dennis Davin, Allegheny County’s economic development director and treasurer of the airport authority board, said the money was too good to pass up.

“We think we got a pretty good deal,” Davin said. 

Davin said the plan would allow Consol to drill on 6 or 7 well pads, and upwards of 50 wells on the airport’s 9,000 acres of public land. Well pads would be several thousand feet from any runway or passenger terminal, he said.

Davin said the money, which includes up to $50 million in upfront signing bonus, and 18 percent royalties, could help the airport cut costs it charges to carriers, in the hopes of luring flights back to Pittsburgh.

The airport’s been bleeding carriers and losing direct flights for years. Frequent flyers, like Christopher DeSantis, of Center Township, Beaver County, have noticed the difference. 

“I’ve watched this airport in the last 20 years go downhill,” said DeSantis, who is in medical equipment sales and flies out two or three times a month.

“Every time we have to take a plane it’s a small regional jet and the flights get cancelled quite frequently,” he said. “If they can use those (gas) funds toward improving the airport, perhaps even attracting other airlines into the airport, I’d be definitely for it.”

What about safety? What if something goes wrong? Davin says drilling has been done safely at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. DFW has had over 100 wells drilled since 2007, without a major accident. The FAA set regulations for drilling there so it doesn’t interfere with takeoffs and landings. At Pittsburgh International, well pads would be thousands of feet from runways.

As to environmental impacts, Consol will have to provide an environmental impact statement required by the FAA. But that doesn’t assuage fractivists like Terri Supowitz of Wilkinsburg, who came out to a public meeting on the plan Thursday night and enumerated a litany of environmental concerns with drilling.

“There’s fracking, bad air, truck traffic, seismic testing with dynamite blowing up, extremely bright lights, 24/7 noise, and often spills leaks fires and explosions,” said Supowitz. 

Davin says the airport will have state, federal and its own inspectors to watch over drilling at the airport. County council will likely vote on the lease February 19. If it passes, wheels could go up on the drilling by the end of 2014. 

Deanna Garcia of 90.5 WESA-FM contributed to this report.