WHEELING - The Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Wheeling Park High School will actually be about 1,300 feet away, more than twice the minimum distance West Virginia law requires wells to be from an "occupied dwelling."
However, with hundreds of trucks delivering water, sand, chemicals and equipment to and from the site, Ohio County Board of Education officials are concerned about how the site will impact the nearly 2,000 students and employees traveling to the school each day.
School leaders filed an official objection to Chesapeake's drilling plans with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection this week, citing problems with drilling trucks using the same roads as school buses and "inexperienced student drivers." As noted in the objection, the school board hopes the DEP will deny Chesapeake's permit altogether, but is requesting the DEP to require Chesapeake to provide a "very detailed site safety plan" if the site is approved.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
Officials with Ohio County Schools are concerned about how a Chesapeake Energy natural gas drilling site near Wheeling Park High School will impact the numerous school buses and vehicles traveling to the school every day.
"Should an explosion, spill, trucking accident, fire or other emergency at the proposed well site occur, the close proximity creates a clear and present danger for the safety of approximately 2,000 individuals who either attend the school or work there daily," states the school's objection letter, which was signed by all board members and Ohio County Schools Superintendent George Krelis.
According to Ohio County property records, the land on which Chesapeake will drill up to six individual wells is owned by the "Parks System Trust Fund of Wheeling." This Chesapeake lease is signed by members of the Wheeling Park Commission.
Park commission and trust fund attorney James Gardill said the two organizations are officially separate. The commission is a public entity established with the city of Wheeling to oversee operations at Oglebay Park and Wheeling Park. The trust fund is a private organization whose mission is to help provide funding for the parks. The fund's trustees are the members of the Wheeling Park Commission.
Park Commission President and Chief Executive Officer J. Douglas Dalby said Chesapeake is following proper procedures in preparing to drill the wells on the trust fund's property.
"We believe in safety first. If there are safety issues that need to be addressed, Chesapeake needs to address them," Dalby said. "I believe the issue of truck traffic is a legitimate concern that the school has raised."
"Chesapeake has safely drilled thousands of horizontal wells in urban settings, near schools, such as West Liberty University and Bethany College, and other public facilities," noted Stacey Brodak, senior director of corporate development for Chesapeake. "We are actively in communication with key stakeholders to keep them apprised of our plans and to make sure our operations are coordinating with activities involving the school, the park and nearby residents."
The DEP application for drilling a new well states, "The center of well pads may not be located within 625 feet of an occupied dwelling" - a point Brodak, Dalby and Gardill emphasized in noting these wells will be more than twice that far from WPHS.
In addition to building the well site about 1,300 feet from the school, Brodak said her company will perform "traffic control, enhanced erosion and sediment controls, pad site containment during all stages of the process, closed loop drilling systems, water recycling programs and multiple tests on casing strings to assure they are done properly to protect groundwater."
She said sound barriers - similar to those used at the Timmy Minch drilling pad from which Chesapeake will access the gas from beneath Oglebay Park - could also be an option.
Also in the school's objection letter is a clause that states the park commission "previously objected to a well site being placed within an area housing (the Oglebay Stables) for similar safety concerns and reasons."
However, Dalby said the park commission objected to Chesapeake's original drilling site for taking the gas from beneath Oglebay mostly for aesthetic reasons, noting the commission was not made aware of any possible safety issues at the time.