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47 Wells to be Drilled at Pittsburgh Airport

Consol Energy

Consol Energy plans to build six well pads and three impoundment ponds on land surrounding the Pittsburgh International Airport as it works to tap into the Marcellus shale under the facility. 

Miles of water and gas pipelines and access roads are also part of the plan that is currently up for public review.

Allegheny County Council inked a deal with Consol to drill at the airport pending regulatory approval from several agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration. The deal could be worth as much a $500 million dollars to the county.

The well pads are set back from the airport terminal to the point that very little of the activity will be seen by travelers, according to Craig Neal, Consol Energy Vice President for Northern Appalachia Operations.  The well pad closest to a home or business is about 1,400 feet from a private property line.

Neal said sound tests have been done to make sure the drilling will not violate any local noise ordinances.

The company is currently in what is known as the “environmental assessment process,” and a final document must still be submitted to the regulating authorities. 

All of the plans can be found on the Airport Authority’s website, where public comment is being taken.

The plans calls for 47 wells to radiate out from the six pads. Some of those horizontal lines will travel more than two miles underground to reach the shale deposits under the runways and terminals.  Consol is also reserving the rights to eventually drill into the more shallow Upper Devonian shale layer.

Seismic testing is yet to be done on the site, but Neal said he does not expect any underground mines to cause any problems with the effort.

Consol Central Pennsylvania Operations manager Joe Zoka said if all goes well with the review, construction of the first well sites, impoundments and pipelines could begin in the second quarter of 2014.  Drilling would then begin in July 2014. The timeline calls for the wells to begin producing in the third quarter of 2015.

Currently the plan calls for 12 miles of water line and 13 miles of gas line, but that will only take the product to the southern most tip of the airport property. From there it must travel at least six more miles to get to the nearest pipeline that would be able to get the gas to a processing facility. Negotiations for that line are still in the works.

County Councilmember Matt Drozd told Consol officials at the plan’s official unveiling Tuesday that he had concerns over the ability of local fire departments to deal with industrial scale accidents that could crop up at the well pads. Allegheny County Airport Authority Manager Brad Penrod tried to allay those fears.

“Our folks have participated in some pad tours with Consol off property … to get a flavor of what is expected of us,” Penrod said. 

Penrod said the airport’s fire crews will be fully trained and equipped to deal with any pad emergency by they time the work begins.

Consol is having to approach the project in an unusual way. Neal said it is one of the energy giant’s largest single parcels which means it will be easier to develop.  However, having to deal with the FAA has added a few extra layers to the planning process.

“Every one of these pads had to be designed, the roads, the pipelines the impoundment, all that design work had to be done up front and approved before we start anything,” Neal said. “If this was on private property, we would probably start on the first well pad while we were still working on designs for the latter ones.”