PIT Airport Doubling-Down on Fracked Gas

Reporter Anya Litvak’s May 21, 2022 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, ‘Airport authority brokers new deals with CNX to incentivize drilling and, possibly, make fuel from natural gas‘ revealed old and new information about the business dealings of the Allegheny County Airport Authority (ACAA) with CNX Resources, headquartered in the Southpointe Business Park in Canonsburg, PA.

The airport authority signed a surface gas lease in 2014 that had the potential of drilling 45 wells on airport property, while they’ve only drilled about one-third that many, eight years later. According to the story in the Post-Gazette, the deal netted the ACAA a $46 million initial signing bonus and over $57 million in royalties since then.

Like all Marcellus Shale gas wells, those airport well gas production numbers have dropped like a rock over the past 6 years! Between March 2016 and March 2022, gas production from the 14 ACAA wells has dropped a whopping 96-percent. You have to wonder if ACAA is having to purchase methane gas on the open market (which has skyrocketed from $2.89 to $8.09 on the US commodities market over the past 12 months) to fuel their new gas power plant.

This sort of huge, fast drop-off is what has made shale gas wells uneconomical, while leading to a “drilling treadmill.” Meantime, solar energy production is far more predictable and production extends 25 to 30 years. Here’s a study done on 193 Marcellus Shale wells:

Shale gas wells show rapid production declines
Below we see photos of the actual drilling and fracking at PIT International Airport in 2015:

Those 2015 drilling and fracking activities included gas well pads on both sides of Interstate 376, as well as several Centralized Impoundment Dams — huge plastic-lined fluid pits that have had a checkered environmental history, as attested to by ongoing DEP violations in western Pennsylvania and beyond.

Checking current records at the PA DEP, we find that ACAA WELL PAD 4, between Enlow Road and Vortac Road, and the closest CNX Resources site to airport runways and other facilities, had TEN violations during a March 16, 2021 inspection:

After the initial gas lease was signed between ACAA and CNX, a solar panel array and methane gas power plant were installed on airport property, a Jekyll & Hyde sort of duo, if you will. While myself and other local residents were aware of the solar array (which provides less than 5-percent of the airport’s electricity needs) I was surprised to learn the airport had also installed a gas-fired electric generation plant, until watching a Zoom webinar hosted by Washington and Jefferson College’s Center for Energy Policy & Management in Washington, PA.

In this latest newspaper story, we read the ACAA has renegotiated their initial gas lease with CNX, which had “good” terms as local gas leases go these days, in order to encourage additional drilling on airport property. Apparently, the deal was too sweet in the airport’s favor, since it included 18-percent royalties along with no deductions for pipeline transportation and gas processing. Similar deduction fees have cut other local royalties 50-percent or more over recent years. Why would you ever give that up!

Instead of holding out and waiting for the inevitable additional drilling on existing well pads that’s sure to come, as the Shell cracker comes online this year, and export demands for the EU increase, the ACAA decided to modify the airport lease in CNX’s favor, to increase the possibility of additional drilling happening sooner. Wonder if they took a royalty cut also?

‘The icing on the cake’ with this new airport deal –with no public comment– is secretive talk (CNX used the word “proprietary”) about CNX constructing what sounds like a cryogenic gas plant, where –get this– the ACAA would earn a 5-percent commission for marketing the gas products produced by this “proprietary” gas plant on airport property. This sounds all wrong to me, on multiple counts!

Considering the mega-center of fracked gas cryogenic gas processing plants that’s already been developed just to the southwest of PIT International Airport, I found the addition of that gas-fired power plant, and now this proprietary gas processing plant, rather alarming. Why isn’t the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania taking a closer look at all the cumulative air pollution being created, instead of sticking with their ‘egg slicer’ permitting of individual facilities! Let’s have a look at a smidgen of the fracked gas development in neighboring Washington County, with that large cluster of cryogenic plants only 7 miles from the airport:

I asked a knowledgeable friend about the ACAA board, how it’s regulated, who it answers to, and who the people are besides CEO Christina Cassotis who are making all these deals involving county property, apparently with little to no public input. He came back with the following reply:

“The Airport Authority, is a creature of the state per the state’s Municipal Authorities Act. It is an entity unto itself, governed by its board, which is appointed by the Allegheny County Executive and approved by the Allegheny County Council.
See generally: https://files4.1.revize.com/myerstownpa/document_center/Municipal_Authorities_PA_2015.pdf
The Act: https://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/53/00.056..HTM

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