Under the Runway

An airport in the red seeks revenue from natural resources under its land.


Talk about developing additional sources of revenue. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport may very well be sitting on a gold mine, or at least a natural-gas field.

The airport is knee-deep in plans to conduct exploratory drilling on its 18,076 acres, which lie on the eastern edge of the Barnett Shale, one of the country's highest-producing gas fields. "We've known about the potential gas field for a few years, but decided that now was the time to pursue it," says CFO Chris Poinsatte.

If it does prove successful, D/FW's land contract could yield a one-time cash bonus of at least $36 million, based on the minimum $2,000-per-acre bonus the airport initially set when the land went up for bid. It could be much higher, though: other municipalities in the area have earned $75 million to $90 million in similar deals. Add in D/FW's 25 percent royalty minimum, and natural-gas drilling could become one of its top revenue generators.

As the airline industry continues to struggle, the potential hidden resource comes at a good time for D/FW. Nearly two years ago, Delta Air Lines decided to close 90 percent of its hub at the airport. "With the airline industry the way it is, our organization has been trying to strategically diversify the revenue stream," says Poinsatte. The revenues from the project will be added to capital funds and will most likely be used to supplement the airport's budget, which is expected to face a deficit of $35 million this year.

D/FW isn't alone when it comes to airports looking below ground for new opportunities — Fort Worth Spinks and Denver airports have already tapped into underlying gas fields. D/FW's project is expected to be the largest to date for any airport in the country. Poinsatte says the natural gas can be explored at a relatively low cost. Currently, only 2 of the airport's nearly 1,700 employees have been dedicated full-time to the project. "Gas mining is not a core competency of ours," notes Poinsatte, "so we'll let a third party take care of the logistics, and we'll share in the revenues."

Airports Developing Fossil Fuel Projects
Dallas/Ft. Worth InternationalNatural gas
Denver InternationalOil & natural gas
Fort Worth SpinksNatural gas
Tulsa InternationalOil
Will Rogers (Oklahoma City)Oil

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