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Natural gas prospectors eye airports for hydrofracking

Imagine looking out your airplane window and seeing gas drilling near the tarmac.
Lara O'Connell
via Flickr
Imagine looking out your airplane window and seeing gas drilling near the tarmac.

Gas companies aren’t just interested in leasing property from private landowners. Airport properties could also be a good fit for natural gas exploitation. But some environmental groups have safety concerns.

Elmira-Corning Regional Airport is hosting what it says is the first-ever “Airports Natural Gas Conference” next month.

Ann Crook, the airport’s manager, said it’s about bringing together to airport officials to talk about how they can benefit from leasing their property for gas drilling and how to work with regulators, like the FAA and EPA.

“Airports are normally in the ballpark of 1,000 acres, and so for a gas company to have that big of a lease with one property owner is kind of attractive,” said Crook.

She said other airports already have mining operations on site, like at the Bradford Regional Airport, in McKean County, Pennsylvania. But environmental groups point out the possibility of well blowouts disrupting air travel, and cite an incident that happened in June near Penfield, Pennsylvania.

A “blowout,” the industry’s term for a surge of pressurized oil or gas that causes an eruption at a well, is what caused an explosion and fire at BP Plc’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, resulting in the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. Environmentalists were quick to compare the two blowouts and call for tighter regulation of the growing use of hydraulic fracturing to extract gas from shale formations. Drillers using the process inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to crack open shale and unlock gas deposits.

Though the well wasn't on airport property, authorities put a temporary ban on surrounding airspace.

Innovation Trail alumnus Ryan Morden is originally from Seattle. He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor's in journalism, minoring in political science and Scandinavian studies. Morden was Morning Edition producer and reporter at WRVO before moving over to the Innovation Trail project. Before landing at WRVO, Morden covered the Washington State legislature as a correspondent for Northwest News Network (N3), a group of nine NPR affiliates in the northwest.
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