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Politics & Government

Airport Fracking Proposal Draws Frustrated, Angry Crowd at Only Public Hearing on Issue

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The only public hearing on allowing Marcellus Shale production on airport land drew a standing-room only crowd to Robert Morris University in Moon Thursday night. The evening started with Allegheny County Council Chair Bob Macey outlining rules which included asking for no heckling, threats, or other noise when speakers are at the microphone. Those rules went out the door when Consol Energy President Nick Deluliis gave his presentation, quoting the Duke Environmental Law Policy Forum.  

“Hydraulic Fracturing is a safe and effective way to recover oil and gas from shale formations.” He continued, “Even EPA Head Lisa Jackson told Congress there are no proven cases where the fracking process itself has affected water.”

That was met to shouts of “that’s a lie” from various audience members, before they were asked to allow him to finish speaking.

The hearing was to get public input on Allegheny County’s proposal to enter into a 30-year agreement with Consol Energy to allow Marcellus Shale production on more than 9,000 acres of Airport Authority land. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the plan would mean more jobs and an economic boost to the county, both of which are high on the priority list.

“But we need to make sure, and we will make sure that this will develop by being environmentally responsible. This project will comply with all EPA and DEP regulations,” he said.

Taking input

Some in the crowd and on the 77-person speaker list weren’t so sure. The consensus among opponents was that not enough is known about long-term effects of fracking.

“Fracking and the way we are doing it now is new,” said Terri Supowitz of Wilkinsburg, “we don’t know the consequences and we certainly don’t know the unintended consequences. There’s been very little research and impact studies. Pennsylvania is the research. Pennsylvania is the experiment.”

Supporters of the proposal cited jobs and economic benefits for the airport and the region. Many of the speakers in support of development had ties to the industry, including Eric Vaccarello who has a land-clearing and recycling business.

“I believe it is possible for America to produce energy in Allegheny County throughout western Pennsylvania in a safe, responsible, and environmentally friendly manner. I see it every day, we’re out there working on the front line.”

Vaccarello and other supporters told stories of being able to grow their workforces thanks to the natural gas boom. One man whose business provides office supplies to Consol drew laughter from the crowd when he said Consol cares about people more than money.

Health and safety

Those who don’t support natural gas development cited not only health concerns, but safety concerns over the chemicals used, and possible spillages, leaks, or fires.  

“I’m opposed to using county-owned land to frack for natural gas,” said Mark Peters of Hazelwood, “our nation’s airports already face more than enough bomb threats from fanatics and lunatics, we do not need to install one permanently in the forest lands surrounding our airports.”

The deal with Consol would include a 50 million dollar up-front investment to the Airport Authority, plus a $500 million dollars investment from Consol in pipes, lines, and jobs among other things. County Executive Fitzgerald says royalty payments are estimated to be about $450 million dollars.

The County Council took no action on the proposal at the hearing. An open house is slated for February 18th in Findlay Township, where more details of Consol’s plan are expected to be outlined.