Commissioners OK natural gas drilling under Washington Co. Airport



WASHINGTON, Pa. - Washington County commissioners have approved a permit that will allow natural-gas drilling under the county airport.

The unanimous 3-0 vote on Thursday opens 135 acres to drilling by energy firms Range Resources and EQT.

Channel 11's Cara Sapida reported the county will receive $6,400-per-acre lease, or a total of $864,000, plus an 18.25 percent royalty once production begins.

"It's the driver of our economy right now. A lot of good things are happening right now in Washington County," Commissioner Larry Maggi said.

According to Maggi, no surface rights on the property are included in the deal, and the firms haven't given a timetable to conduct drilling.

"They could start immediately, if they chose to," Maggi said.

Residents who live in the area told Sapida they want to be informed and know more about future plans.

"No one has come to our door to notify us or anything," said Don Carl, whose property is against Washington County Airport. "I was a little shocked reading it in the paper. I wasn't aware of any of this."

Since 2009, Washington County has collected nearly $11 million from drilling deals on other public properties, including Cross Creek Park and the county fairgrounds, Maggi said. Bids are being sought for a drilling contract beneath Mingo Creek State Park.

"It helps us keep the county taxes low," Maggi said.

Maggi said money from previous drilling projects has been spent to improve parks and make repairs to the courthouse and other county buildings. Commissioners plan to use money from the new drilling deal to leverage federal and state funds to improve the airport.

"We're trying to make it (the airport) a regional player," Maggi said.

The airport, which was built in 1947, is on about 400 acres and has 34 T-hangars, 10 corporate hangars and seven aviation businesses. It does not service flights by passenger airlines.

Pending projects include refurbishing the terminal building, adding hangar space and repaving the runway, taxiways and aprons.

Allegheny County officials last year contracted with Consol Energy to drill for natural gas on 8,807 acres at Pittsburgh International Airport. That deal could bring $500 million in fees and gas royalties paid over two decades to the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

Consol is seeking federal approval of its drilling plans in regards to air pollution limits.

Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.