As Chesapeake Energy prepares to drill a gas well about 1,300 feet away from Wheeling Park High School and its Patriot Field baseball facility, 310 people have signed an online petition seeking to stop the well.
The official comment period has now passed, so the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection could soon make a decision on whether to allow the well to proceed. Although Chesapeake officials believe they can safely work at the site, some local leaders and residents are not so sure and have filed objections to the site with the DEP.
Wheeling resident Christine Bonfili said seeing members of City Council, the Ohio County Commission and the Ohio County Board of Education unite to express displeasure with Chesapeake's drilling plans motivated her to gather signatures from individual residents who also oppose the idea. Her online petition drive is now closed.
Photo by Casey Junkins
Wheeling resident Christine Bonfili shows the thank-you note she sent to some of the organizations who have officially opposed the Chesapeake Energy natural gas drilling site near Wheeling Park High School.
"I was really happy to see the officials take this stance," she said, noting she does not oppose all gas drilling but believes the industry should be kept farther away from the roughly 2,000 students, teachers and employees attending WPHS daily when school is in session.
The land on which the well will 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.
Park Commission President and Chief Executive Officer J. Douglas Dalby said the drilling issues must be resolved by the school, Chesapeake and the Ohio County Emergency Management Agency. He confirmed he received a copy of the petition from Bonfili, but declined to comment further on the matter.
"I just really wish the Wheeling Park Commission would see the other side of this," Bonfili said, noting she forwarded copies of the petition to the DEP and some local governmental bodies.
Many of those signing the online petition hail from Wheeling, while most of the others live in the Upper Ohio Valley. Some live as far away as Florida, California, France and the United Kingdom.
In addition to signing the petition - which officially expresses support for the city, county and school board officials for standing against the well site - one could also offer more expansive and direct comments regarding the well site.
University of Southern California biology professor Yuri Gorby, a Brooke High School and Bethany College graduate, opposes the well site near WPHS.
"To permit public exposure to toxic chemicals generated by horizontal hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is a failure of our government. To subject our children to such exposure is criminal," Gorby stated.
Also commenting in opposition to the well were a few people identifying themselves as teachers at WPHS. One of these individuals summed up their comments by stating, "For the safety of our students, faculty and staff of WPHS. There are plenty of sites to drill at in Ohio County. They can go somewhere else."