School Waiting For Word On Well

CAMERON – In August, Marshall County Schools Superintendent Michael Hince said Trans Energy’s plan to drill a Marcellus Shale natural gas well within 3,800 feet of the new Cameron school was “imminent.”

Although the firm is posting company-record production levels throughout Marshall, Wetzel and Marion counties, there is still no well at the site near the school that houses about 350 students in grades 7-12.

“It is six months later, but there is still nothing up there,” Hince said. “As an adjacent property owner, we should receive notification if and when it is approved.”

“If I had my say, it would not be anywhere near a school. But you have to put your trust in the regulators,” he added regarding the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas.

Trans Energy President John Corp and Vice President of Operations Leslie Gearhart emphasize the St. Marys, W.Va.-based company has been working in the region for several years with relatively few complaints or problems.

Hince said his concerns with having a well so close to the school include establishing evacuation plans in case of a fire or explosion; truck traffic during school hours that could interfere with school buses traveling on U.S. 250; and possible air pollution drifting into CHS.

“We had a meeting with them,” Hince said of Trans Energy, DEP and Marshall County Emergency Management Agency officials. “We did discuss a possible evacuation plan in the event of a serious situation.”

During drilling and fracking, companies generally have dozens of water, sand and equipment trucks traveling to and from the well pads each day. Hince initially feared these trucks would likely be turning off U.S. 250 onto Clouston Road, which runs by the school, to reach the well site.

“We are not going to use (U.S. 250) to reach this site,” Gearhart said. “Also, when school buses are traveling, we will make sure that our vehicles do not cross their paths.”

Hince said Trans Energy can reach the planned well pad by turning off U.S. 250 onto side roads well before reaching the school.

“I think they will work with us on the traffic issues,” he said.

Even though the 3,800-foot distance well exceeds the 625-foot distance the DEP requires wells to be located from “occupied dwellings,” Hince knows community worries remain. Howard Gamble, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department administrator, and Michael McCawley, chairman of the Department of Occupational & Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health at West Virginia University, said studies show that carcinogenic benzene is prevalent in the air near Marcellus Shale fracking sites.

“It is not necessarily what is coming out of the earth. They have a huge amount of equipment that runs – and they have huge numbers of diesel trucks that are going in and out the whole time,” Gamble said.

“The (DEP) does not seem concerned” about having a well close to the school, Hince said.