SHADYSIDE - John Haswell understands the natural gas drilling lease the Shadyside Local School District signed with Gulfport Energy for $7,250 per acre and 20 percent of production royalties will not solve all the district's financial challenges.
But it sure helps.
"With just 20 acres, it's not a lot, but every little bit helps," said Haswell, who serves as both district superintendent and Shadyside High School principal. "It will help our budget this year, though, for sure."
Photo by Casey Junkins
To help the financially struggling Shadyside Local School District cut costs, Superintendent and High School Principal John Haswell now also works as a bus driver.
Gulfport continues drilling productive wells throughout Belmont County, as the Irons 1-4 H well along Ohio 148 near Armstrong Mills is yielding about 30 million cubic feet of dry methane natural gas per day. Haswell has reason to hope the initial $145,000 lease payment for the district's 20 acres could be just the beginning for Shadyside.
"Only time will tell as far as the royalties go. That will depend on how Gulfport moves forward with its drilling plans," Haswell said. "I know there are people throughout the town signing on with them, so they should be looking to do something here."
Many East Ohio residents who originally signed leases with Wishgard LLC or Tri-Star Energy have seen those contracts turned over to Gulfport. This year, Gulfport plans to spend more than $630 million to drill about 95 new wells in the Utica Shale.
No one should expect to notice any environmental impact from drilling on the district's land, as Haswell said the Gulfport contract includes a "non-surface use clause." This means the driller would place its rig and other equipment on the surface outside the village to access the school's property via horizontal drilling and fracking.
"There are some environmental concerns that our board took very seriously. We wanted to make sure they would not be storing brine anywhere on our property," he said. "We didn't want to have an oil derrick in the middle of our baseball field."
Haswell said even if Gulfport would choose not to use the district's acreage in one of its drilling pads, the $145,000 will be quite helpful for a district that lost substantial property tax revenue when FirstEnergy Corp. closed the R.E. Burger Plant a few years ago.
"That really killed us when they closed," Haswell said of the FirstEnergy facility. "I am still hoping someone is going to build an ethane cracker down at Dilles Bottom."
Haswell said the Burger Plant's closure left an annual $733,000 hole in the district's budget. In November, Shadyside voters approved a 4.61-mill levy for the school, which is expected to generate about $365,000 per year for five years.
"We have cut and cut and cut. We are down to the bare minimum," he said, noting the district has not been able to replace some retiring employees.
To make sure no one questioned whether he was doing his part for the district, Haswell is even working as a bus driver for the school now, while maintaining his superintendent and principal duties.
"I don't mind doing it," Haswell said of driving the bus. "As long as I am here, I will probably keep driving."