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Environment & Energy

Gov. Corbett, Consol CEO Offer Praise at Airport Drilling Kickoff

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

“Energy independence.”

“Shale revolution.”

These were the buzzwords used Monday morning as officials gathered for a ceremony marking the start of natural gas drilling activity near Pittsburgh International Airport.

The mood was festive — complete with music, appetizers, goodie bags and air conditioned portable restrooms — as Gov. Tom Corbett and Consol Energy President and CEO Nick DeIuliis prepared to take the podium.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald served as master of ceremonies, praising County Council for their work in reaching an agreement with Consol and extolling the virtues of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale.

“These … roughly 9,000 acres of airport land, we wanted to put it to the best use for the taxpayers and for the region,” Fitzgerald said.

Consol has already paid the county $50 million for the drilling contract, and Fitzgerald said the company is expected to spend $500 million on capital expenditures. Another $500 million will come in the form of royalties over the life of the project.

“That money could be used in a lot of different ways, and we’re going to see that money as it comes in … lowering the costs at the airport, lowering the costs to make us more competitive with airlines, to bring more flights,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny) and other speakers continually came back to the theme of energy independence, saying that the drilling project will help lessen America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East.

But Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania State Director for Clean Water Action, said that claim is unsubstantiated.

“The idea that somehow because energy is taken from the resources here in Western Pennsylvania that we actually have more energy is false,” Arnowitt said. “The companies themselves are very clear that they want to export.”

Indeed, DeIuliis said some of the natural gas extracted from the site will be shipped overseas, which will help reduce volatility in the market.

According to Arnowitt, renewable energy along with a reduction in energy demand overall is a more effective path to U.S. energy independence.

“If you have solar electricity generation here, it’s going right into the homes and businesses it’s installed with,” Arnowitt sad. “If you put in energy efficient lighting and products, that is money that you’re saving right here in the local economy.”

But Marcellus Shale production in Pennsylvania does not appear to be slowing down. Corbett said Pennsylvania is “coming after” Texas, which is currently the number one producer of natural gas in the country.

“From number five in the production of natural gas … in the nation, to number two in just about five years,” Corbett said. “We’re number two in the production of electricity and number two in nuclear power generation, because we have adopted an all of the above and below philosophy to creating energy.”

Corbett said his administration is embracing the idea that “energy equals jobs.” DeIuliis pointed to the 240,000 Pennsylvania jobs that are tied to the “shale revolution,” with an average compensation of $90,000 a year.

Corbett also praised Consol Energy for its focus on safety and environmental protection.

However, Arnowitt called Marcellus Shale drilling in general “a step in the wrong direction.” He went on to say that a truly green energy future would include renewable sources such as solar and wind, industries which also have the potential to create good-paying jobs.

The state Department of Environmental Protection found more than 500 violations at unconventional oil and gas well sites in 2013, 200 of which required enforcement actions. That number is down from more than 1,200 violations in 2010.

“At the feel-good events they don’t like to talk about that,” Arnowitt said. “They like to say how great the benefits are from their perspective, but they don’t want to talk about the fact that the track record right now is not that great.”