WELLSBURG - 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.
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.
As Ohio County Schools officials continue to object to Chesapeake's plans of drilling a well near Wheeling Park High School, Brooke officials seem eager to proceed with their drilling project. While Brooke stands to collect $661,500 up front and additional subsequent funding for drilling there, Ohio County officials will not gain any money for the drilling near Wheeling Park because those mineral rights are owned by the Park System Trust Fund.
Though she declined to comment at all on the Ohio County situation, Kidder- Wilkerson said Chesapeake is doing all it can to prevent any possible problems in Brooke County.
"And the drilling will not be on our property," she said.
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.
"This is probably two to three years in the future that we will be seeing this," she added of the timeline for drilling and fracking.
Chesapeake spokeswoman Jacque Bland said the drilling plans for Brooke High School, like every drilling plan the company has, will be "evaluated independently to see if additional measures would be beneficial."
"Safety of area residents, our workers and the environment is always our top priority," she said. "The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection requires the submission of a site safety plan as part of a permit application. Chesapeake continues active communication with key stakeholders, and will keep them aware of our plans and coordinate our activities accordingly."
As for the $661,500 in lease money - and subsequent 18 percent of production royalties once Chesapeake begins pumping gas from the beneath the high school - Kidder-Wilkerson said there is not yet a definitive plan for how to spend the money.
"We could put it into a special projects fund; we could use some of it to help get matching grants," she said. "We will not be using it for day-to-day operations."
With so much drilling taking place in Brooke County and throughout West Virginia's Northern Panhandle, drilling companies have been bringing in many out-of-state workers to complete the projects, partially because they say local residents are not qualified to do the work. Kidder-Wilkerson said her school district is working to formulate a plan to possibly offer some technical training to high school students that may give them a chance to work in the natural gas industry.
"We know there are concerns out there, but there are also a lot of opportunities that we otherwise did not have," she added.
Staff Writer Warren Scott contributed to this report.