Drilling/Fracking Near WV High Schools of Significant Concern

by Duane Nichols on May 30, 2012

Chesapeake  Well Pad Near Wheeling Park High School

The Ohio County Board of Education has written to the WV-DEP regarding a possible Marcellus well pad just 1300 feet from Wheeling Park High School.  The letter has been received said Kathy Cosco of the WV-DEP, according to the Wheeling Intelligencer

Although the well’s distance from the school is more than twice the legal limit for wells to be located from an “occupied dwelling,” this does not suffice for the school board and others who are objecting to the site, including the Ohio County Commission, city of Wheeling and several individual residents.

“The Board objects to Chesapeake’s decision to put its interest above those of the students, faculty, staff and families of Wheeling Park High School by placing its well pad in such close proximity to the high school,” the letter states.

This letter supplements comments the school district previously made regarding the problems with Chesapeake’s evacuation plans and potential dangers from increased truck traffic.

When asked if Huffman had the authority to deny a permit that otherwise meets all legal requirements, Cosco said her agency has denied “at least two oil and gas permits in the last year,” though she did not know the specific reasons for these denials.

“Typically, we fall back on what the law says,” she said. “However, we do have the authority to apply conditions to the permit, based on the unique circumstances that may be involved. We recognize that not every well site in the state has the same issues.”

The land on which the well is to be drilled is owned by the “Parks System Trust Fund of Wheeling.” This Chesapeake lease is signed by members of the Wheeling Park Commission, which oversees the operations of the Oglebay Resort and Wheeling Park. Commission attorney James Gardill said these two bodies are officially separate, while Commission President and Chief Executive Officer J. Douglas Dalby said the drilling issues must be resolved by the school, Chesapeake and the DEP.

Chesapeake’s original 2010 drilling plans for draining the gas from the Oglebay Park property called for the closure of the Oglebay Stables, with the company’s drilling pad to be established nearby at a point between W.Va. 88 and GC&P Road. However, park commissioners quickly objected to the DEP by questioning plans for water usage and transportation and the disposal of fracking fluid, among several other concerns. At that point, the DEP sent this permit application back to Chesapeake, as referenced by Cosco.

Chesapeake eventually established the nearby Minch pad drilling plan for gaining the Oglebay gas, thus abandoning the plan to place drilling equipment on the Oglebay surface property. “It is our hope that the company and the county work together to address any concerns the school has that are not addressed in the permit requirements outlined by the regulations,” Cosco added of the plans to drill near WPHS.

One of the concerns the individual objectors note is possible air pollution at the school because of the close proximity. Chesapeake, in legal advertisements, notes the “potential to discharge” an array of air pollutants from its Sand Hill and Battle Run compressor stations, as well as from some local gas well sites throughout Ohio County.

Chesapeake To Drill Under Brooke High School

According to Scott Warren in the Wheeling News Register, Chesapeake Energy’s plan to drill for natural gas under Brooke High School should not create any problems for the more than 1,000 students who attend there each day, County Superintendent Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson said.

The lease agreement Brooke County Schools officials signed with Chesapeake will pay the district $661,500 in lease money, based on a rate of $3,500 per acre on 189 acres. The district also will receive 18 percent of production royalties once Chesapeake gets the gas flowing from the Marcellus Shale underlying the high school. No specific plans have been make as to how to use the money.

Chesapeake is proceeding to drill many wells in Brooke County, in addition to Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties. Along with drilling operations come truck traffic as well as potential environmental concerns from the drilling and fracking operations.

When Kidder-Wilkerson said there will be no drilling on school property, she’s referring to horizontal drilling, a technique that allows drillers to access gas in a pooled unit from a central well site. This process will allow the gas trapped under Brooke High School to be released through a well that is drilled on someone else’s surface property. The well bores are drilled vertically down into the earth before being turned horizontally to extend out into the adjacent mineral beds.

As for the truck traffic, Kidder-Wilkerson said her school has not yet experienced any problems with this, adding that she does not foresee any issues with the trucks sharing the roads with school buses and student drivers.

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