New Revenue Might Be Right Under DF/W Airport's Feet

By the end of the year, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport's 18,000 acres could become home to dozens of natural gas wells as airport officials look for ways to pump up nonaviation revenues.

D/FW has large airfield areas where drilling would be prohibited, but the airport's largely undeveloped perimeter could have profitable sites for drilling rigs, wells and collection sites, said John Terrell, D/FW's real estate vice president.

Now D/FW needs to hire an oil and gas company to do the job.

While plans are still preliminary, "it's our goal to actually award the bid before year's end," Terrell told the D/FW Airport Board at Thursday's meeting.

If successful, natural gas drilling could dramatically increase D/FW's revenues with minimal investment, officials said. For an airport struggling with escalating debt and empty gates, the idea of new revenues that don't depend on air service is appealing, officials said.

As the plan stands, D/FW would reach a lease agreement with an oil and gas company that would get royalties and bonuses based on performance.

As a first step, Terrell will go to the host cities of Grapevine and Coppell to discuss land rights, drilling opportunities and legal matters. A map of possible well locations includes sites all over D/FW, including five north of Texas 114 and four along the old alignment of what would have been the eighth runway in Grapevine. Others are along Texas 360 and in the Bear Creek area of Euless, also a host city.

The board, owner cities Fort Worth and Dallas, and the Federal Aviation Administration must sign off on any plan. Fort Worth and Dallas would actually execute the lease.

Eventually, the airport would seek an experienced oil and gas company with knowledge of the Barnett Shale natural gas formation, financial strength and a solid track record in hiring minorities.

Board member Santiago Salinas urged caution, saying that, despite laws to the contrary, he believes mineral revenues at D/FW should go to the owner cities, not to the airport coffers.

Airport attorney Gary Keane and D/FW Chief Operating Officer Kevin Cox, a lawyer, said such proceeds go to the airport. Board Chairman Jeff Wentworth said, however, that D/FW should get a legal opinion from an outside attorney.

"This will not be without benefits to the owner cities," Cox assured the board.

In other news, the board voted to spend $813,225 for an expansion of the airport's canine facility, home to D/FW's bomb-sniffing dogs. The board also bid farewell to one of its most influential members, Max Wells of Dallas.