DEP Still Mulling WPHS Gas Well

West Virginia environmental regulators are still not sure if they will allow Chesapeake Energy to build a natural gas drill site about 1,300 feet from Wheeling Park High School.

“We are reviewing well site safety plan, water management plan, well site construction plan, sediment and erosion control plans, etc.,” said West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Thomas Aluise this week.

“The application is being evaluated as any application would that’s covered under the new legislation for horizontal wells,” he added of the more stringent regulations adopted by the state Legislature last year.

Although the period for public comment ended months ago – and although Chesapeake’s permit application seems to meet all legal requirements established by the Legislature – the company still does not have authority to drill a well on this strip of land.

Chesapeake – the only horizontal driller and fracker with active operations in Ohio, Brooke or Hancock counties – now has more than 40 well sites in some stages of development throughout Ohio County. Companies working on behalf of Chesapeake and its affiliates are also building a pipeline network through the county to transport the gas from the wells.

The land on which Chesapeake seeks to drill this particular well 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.

Park Commission President and Chief Executive Officer J. Douglas Dalby has said the drilling issues must be resolved by the school, Chesapeake and the Ohio County Emergency Management Agency.

The well’s 1,300-foot distance from the school is more than twice the legal limit for wells to be located from a “occupied dwelling,” as required by the Legislature. However, officials with Ohio County Schools, the Ohio County Commission and Wheeling City Council have passed formal resolutions objecting to the drilling, with the school district submitting the comments to the DEP. The school board also appealed directly to DEP Secretary Randy Huffman in an effort to stop the well.

“Ohio County Schools is currently working with legal counsel. All issues are under discussion,” Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dianna M. Vargo said this week regarding the school’s position.

The school and other local public bodies got additional support in the form of about 20 individual objections filed by residents to the DEP in an effort to prevent the well site from being located so close to the school. Some filed more than one objection. More than 310 people also signed an online petition to stop the well.

As officials with DEP continue to review this permit, one reason for the delay may be the volume of well applications the agency is receiving because of the Marcellus and Utica shale rush. On an almost daily basis, the agency issues new drilling permits for all areas of the state, including Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, Brooke, Hancock and Tyler counties.

This week, Chesapeake spokeswoman Jacque Bland said the company had no comment regarding the project.