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Pittsburgh International Airport Has Gas

The evening plane rises up from the runway, over constellations of light. Those iconic words were sung by Rush in the 1989 classic “Presto.” Neil Peart was referring to houses, though, and not flare-ups caused by companies that frack natural gas wells next to airports.

Twenty five years later, it just might have a different meaning. The New York Times recently reported that Allegheny County officials, long saddled with debt from the Pittsburgh International Airport, are going to allow an oil and gas company to complete its fracking projects adjacent to the property. With the juicy promise of nearly $500,000,000 over the next twenty years, the county is letting Consol Energy drill its first well by late August, 2014.

The drilling of nearly 60 wells will take place outside the airport’s fence, but will tunnel about 8,000 feet directly under the runway in an attempt to harvest an expected 800 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The Times estimates that enough gas could be recouped to fulfill the entire state of Pennsylvania’s gas need for a year and a half. Allegheny County’s executive, Rich Fitzgerald stated,

It’s like finding money. Suddenly you’ve got this valuable asset that nobody knew was there.

The airport was a major hub for flights until 2004, when US Airways began phasing out flights to and from Pittsburgh. The airline originally requested to have a hub built in the mid 1980s. However, consolidation of the airline industry in recent years led to a downturn in flights, passengers, usable gates, and profits. The Times reports, “The terminal was built for 30 million passengers a year. The peak was just under 21 million, in 1997. Last year, there were eight million.” The number of gates at the airport fell from 75 to 62, and even many of those aren’t currently used.

Airmall, the retail management in control of the airport, is supplementing the fracking profits by bringing in chain restaurants, specialty food stores, clothing stores, and accessory shops. Additionally, Dick’s Sporting Goods has a headquarters and a hangar located on airport-owned ground. The hope is that more tenants will want to build and operate there, with the rent being paid to the airport to increase its operating budget.

However, with the majority of incoming profits originating from Consol Energy, security and safety will become paramount near the airport. Fracking support has grown immensely over the last year, and while the airport itself and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the project, drilling in such close proximity to where planes and passengers take off should be done with extreme prudence.

Pittsburgh International Airport was once a bustling hub for as many as 600 flights per day. When that total shrank to 300, something needed to be done to stay in business. New sources of income, including fracking, needed to be considered. So as you start to doze off on the red-eye from Pittsburgh to San Francisco, the “constellations of light” you gaze down upon really should be houses.

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