Allegheny County Set For Takeoff as Council Approves Airport Deal
**Cross-posted on EIDMarcellus.org**
Last week, the Allegheny County Council approved an ordinance authorizing the lease of 9,263 acres surrounding the Pittsburgh International Airport to CONSOL Energy for oil and natural gas development.
The vote, which passed 9-4, comes after years of study and effort to position the county to take advantage of the vast resources in the area. Looking at the numbers, the move will allow them to do just that.
With a $50 million upfront payment from Cecil-based CONSOL, combined with 18% royalties estimated to net an additional $450 million over the next 20 years, the deal could generate half a billion dollars to the airport.
That doesn’t even include the $500 million estimated in investments in infrastructure and outside costs. All told, the deal could net nearly a billion dollars in investments – a promising venture for the county, and one that will benefit the entire community. This much was made clear by the County Executive in a recent Pittsburgh Post Gazette story:
This deal is basically going to be a billion-dollar investment that CONSOL is making in this region without any taxpayer dollars. I feel good about what the taxpayers and the community are going to get out of this. – Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald
The Allegheny County Airport is the 49th most trafficked airport in the country, according to Airports Council International, with over 8.3 million passengers funneling through in 2011. However, the airport hasn’t reached its true potential and the county seeks to improve on these statistics with the new deal, and are optimistic the revenue generated by it will lead to lower airline costs and gate fees, thus attracting more flights and passengers.
Energy in Depth spoke with County Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, who applauded the decision to allow oil and natural gas development at the airport:
Accessing the natural gas for sale beneath our airport will provide a multitude of opportunities for the citizens of our county and hopefully increase the desirability of the airport for carriers interested in increasing flights into and out of our airport. The airport is a tremendous asset of our region and this effort will only strengthen its attributes. – County Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald released a statement following the decision, one that highlighted the immediate benefits to the airport, and the future opportunities the deal will provide:
It isn’t often that the County is able to announce a billion dollar investment, but that’s exactly what Council’s action allows us to do. 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. – County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (Statement on Approval of Mineral Lease at Pittsburgh Airport, 2/19/13)
Along with substantial benefit to the airport and surrounding community, the project will also bring much a needed influx of jobs – both in the immediate and long-term. The construction project itself, and growth the investment will bring, provide a boon to the county and it’s workforce. These opinions were voiced by many local leaders following the approval as noted below:
There’s an abundance of jobs in this industry, and we need to recognize that. Let’s move this county forward and never say no to jobs. – Jack Shea, President, Allegheny County Labor Council (Allegheny County Council approves airport gas drilling plan, 2/19/13)
The communities surrounding the airport – Findley Township, Moon, Imperial, Clinton among them – stand to gain long-term investment from the industry as a direct result of CONSOL’s activities at the airport. This bodes well for the future growth and economic success of the region, and its families as noted by Fitzgerald in his statement.
That part of Allegheny County is one of the fastest growing areas today – current development around the airport already accounts for over 5,000 jobs. With this type of investment, there will be even more growth of good, family-sustaining jobs in our community. (Statement on Approval of Mineral Lease at Pittsburgh Airport, 2/19/13)
As shale development continues to expand across the Commonwealth, we continue to see a reemergence of business and investment returning to the communities where it is taking place. For the families of Allegheny County, this decision by the County Council is a great example of how a proactive approach can encourage that growth.