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County OK's Drilling at Pittsburgh International Airport

The Allegheny County Council has given approval to a contract to drill for natural gas and oil at Pittsburgh International Airport.  Council voted 9-4 with one abstention Tuesday night to approve the contract with Consol Energy Inc.

The deal comes with a $50 million up front signing bonus.  Once Consol starts drilling it will give the county 18% of the revenue generated by production at the site.  It has been estimated that could amount to as much as $450 million over the next 20 years.

The vote came after a contentious debate before a larger-than-normal crowd.  Those audience members echoed the concerns voiced at a public hearing on the contract earlier this month, which had drawn more than 70 speakers—most of them against the proposal.

Council members opposed to the 30-year contract said they were concerned about environmental impacts and safety and whether the county got the best deal possible.

John DeFazio, Matt Drozd, James Ellenbogen, Michael Finnerty, Nicholas Futules, Robert Macey, Charles Martoni, John Palmiere, and Jan Rea voted in favor of the contract.   All four "no" votes came from Democrats:  James Burn, Barbara Danko, Amanda Green Hawkins and William Robinson.  Republican Heather Heidelbaugh abstained because Consol is a client of her law firm.

The first wells would be drilled in late 2014 or early 2015.

The funds generated by the contract are to remain at the airport.  The airport said it would use the money to lower airline costs in hopes of attracting more flights, and for capital improvements.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald made the leasing of the mineral rights a keystone of his campaign for County Executive reacted to the vote by calling the vote “exciting.”

“While the revenues from this deal will go directly to the airport, Allegheny County taxpayers benefit too – by reducing business costs for airlines and increasing our airport’s competitiveness, creating a new source of revenue for the airport to make capital improvements and, perhaps most importantly, allowing additional investment in the economic development opportunities in the airport corridor.” said Fitzgerald.

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