Gas Wells, Schools Just Don’t Seem to Mix Very Well

In school, sometimes real life trumps academics. That’s what happened one day recently in my classroom when a senior student asked: “Mrs. Shalaway, do you think it is worth staying and fighting for this area, or do you think we should just get out now?”

Oh no, one of those too-frequent moments when I can’t say what I really think.

“Your home is always worth fighting for.”

But the student wasn’t satisfied with my answer. She and her classmates were upset by news reports that two new gas well pads were being planned for the immediate vicinity of their brand-new “green” school. Some claimed that even before this “last straw,” their parents were already planning to leave.

These young people knew what more gas wells meant. They’ve lived it for the past several years. Those who live on the back roads running by well pads have choked on the dust, listened to the incessant roar of heavy equipment, and watched the never-ending parade of heavy tankers, huge gravel trucks, and other unidentifiable equipment hauled on flatbed trailers.

Those who haven’t experienced it that intimately certainly have had to negotiate the potholes and heavy truck traffic on Route 250. They’ve learned to leave home at least 15 minutes earlier than before.

And everyone – even the occasional out-of-state tourist leisurely passing through the area – can see the jagged scars on green rolling hills and ridges.

But two new well pads on either side of the school? Is nothing sacred?

Concerned for our students’ health and safety, CHS faculty senate wrote to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Most immediately, we are concerned that the toxic gases and chemicals necessarily a part of gas well drilling and fracking would be sucked into the school’s “green” climate control system that relies exclusively on a constant intake of “fresh air.” (An Aug. 25 News-Register article features a prominent WVU scientist urging the DEP to regulate and monitor these toxic gases at all wells.)

We are also concerned about advance warning of an accident requiring the school’s evacuation. How would buses get to the school soon enough? Where would 400 children and adults go if Route 250 were shut down to all but emergency vehicles?

Then there’s the traffic. Trucks would drive right past the school and turn at the intersection where student drivers and buses would be turning.

Our questions and concerns fell on deaf ears. Even before the comment period ended, the DEP website for well permit comments disallowed comments.

So we emailed our faculty letter to DEP officials but haven’t heard from any. Our local politicians didn’t even know about the proposed pads. When our vice-principal sought answers from Trans Energy, he received them, including the following, printed verbatim:

– What type of continuous organic chemical monitoring system will be installed?

We will not have a continuous organic chemical monitoring system, and have never had one on a location.

– Will you use any type of a sound barrier?

We will not use any type of sound barrier. The well will be located 3,740 feet from the school. There is a large hill between the school and location. (Inaccurate). You will not have any noise problems from the rig.

– Dust Control, what is you plan for dust?

We do not have a plan for dust control – we are not driving near the school.

– Will we receive radon detectors for Cameron High School?

We will not provide radon detectors – the wells will not have radon emissions.

The Trans Energy response, which does not include even one concession for the safety of children, concludes with, “We would be happy to meet with any concerned parents or community members.”

We go to great lengths to encourage West Virginia students to keep their talents in West Virginia. We award Promise Scholarships for state colleges and universities. We forgive the school debt of doctors and pharmacists who practice in the state.

And we encourage business and industry to keep our citizens employed. Wouldn’t it be ironic if one of those industries ends up driving out those same talented individuals we are trying to keep here?

To read about local gas well experiences, go to this link:

Linda Shalaway is a National Board-certified teacher and author “Learning to Teach … Not Just for Beginners (Scholastic, 2005). She teaches at Cameron High School.