WHEELING - West Virginia regulators can add conditions to natural gas drilling permits to address site-specific concerns, but they must apply the law equally to all drillers.
State Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said Tuesday her agency has received the letter the Ohio County Board of Education mailed last week, which asks DEP Secretary Randy Huffman to deny Chesapeake Energy's permit to drill 1,300 feet from Wheeling Park High School. Cosco was not sure if Huffman had seen the letter himself, but she said officials with the DEP would review the document.
Although the well's distance from the school is more than twice the legal limit for wells to be located from an "occupied dwelling," this does not suffice for the school board and others who are objecting to the site, including the Ohio County Commission, city of Wheeling and several individual residents.
"The Board objects to Chesapeake's decision to put its interest above those of the students, faculty, staff and families of Wheeling Park High School by placing its well pad in such close proximity to the high school," the letter states.
This letter supplements comments the school district previously made regarding the problems with Chesapeake's evacuation plans and potential dangers from increased truck traffic.
When asked if Huffman had the authority to deny a permit that otherwise meets all legal requirements, Cosco said her agency has denied "at least two oil and gas permits in the last year," though she did not know the specific reasons for these denials.
"Typically, we fall back on what the law says," she said. "However, we do have the authority to apply conditions to the permit, based on the unique circumstances that may be involved. We recognize that not every well site in the state has the same issues."
One of these special conditions could, for example, oblige Chesapeake to take extra care at the site, noting the relatively close distance to the school.
"We have also sent permits back to companies, asking for corrections or for more information," Cosco added.
The land on which the well is to be drilled 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, while Commission President and Chief Executive Officer J. Douglas Dalby said the drilling issues must be resolved by the school, Chesapeake and the DEP.
Chesapeake's original 2010 drilling plans for draining the gas from the Oglebay Park property called for the closure of the Oglebay Stables, with the company's drilling pad to be established nearby at a point between W.Va. 88 and GC&P Road. However, park commissioners quickly objected to the DEP by questioning plans for water usage and transportation and the disposal of fracking fluid, among several other concerns. At that point, the DEP sent this permit application back to Chesapeake, as referenced by Cosco.
Chesapeake eventually established the nearby Minch pad drilling plan for gaining the Oglebay gas, thus abandoning the plan to place drilling equipment on the Oglebay surface property.
"It is our hope that the company and the county work together to address any concerns the school has that are not addressed in the permit requirements outlined by the regulations," Cosco added of the plans to drill near WPHS.
One of the concerns the individual objectors note is possible air pollution at the school because of the close proximity.
Chesapeake, in legal advertisements, notes the "potential to discharge" an array of air pollutants from its Sand Hill and Battle Run compressor stations, as well as from some local gas well sites throughout Ohio County.