Chesapeake Energy Corp. began drilling for natural gas at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport last week. The company’s 170-foot-tall drilling rig launches the largest gas exploration effort at a major U.S. airport, and the project represents the single largest gas lease in the Barnett Shale formation, Chesapeake said.

The spudding event kicked off an exploration and production program expected to span more than a decade and bring hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development to the North Texas region. By the end of May, Chesapeake plans to bring a total of five rigs to DFW.

“We aggressively pursued this opportunity last year and we are pleased this historic day has arrived,” said Henry J. Hood, general counsel for Chesapeake. “The Barnett Shale has emerged as one of America’s largest natural gas fields. The start of drilling at DFW is a prime example of unconventional opportunities created as a result of recent advances in horizontal drilling and completion technology.”

Chesapeake could drill as many as 300 wells on DFW’s land, and each one will maintain a safe distance from both the airfield and inbound and outbound aircraft.

Chesapeake and DFW worked with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to determine safety and security requirements for the exploration and drilling process. Almost all of DFW’s 18,000 acres are available for exploration, with more than 9,000 of those acres available for surface drilling. The exploration effort will have no impact on airfield operations.

In the summer of 2006, Chesapeake paid DFW Airport $186 million in initial bonus and will continue to pay a 25% revenue-sharing royalty on all gas produced from the airport’s leasehold. DFW has earmarked $40 million of its initial bonus to begin renovations of the airport’s original four terminals.

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