WHEELING - Attorneys for the Ohio County Board of Education are appealing directly to West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman to prevent Chesapeake Energy from drilling natural gas wells near Wheeling Park High School.
Board members met behind closed doors with attorneys from the Wheeling law firm of Casey, Chapman & Mushet for nearly an hour Thursday to discuss a letter sent to Huffman, who has the sole authority to deny Chesapeake's two well permit applications.
The correspondence reflects the concerns raised in a letter the board of education sent to the DEP earlier this month, which cited evacuation routes and potential dangers caused by increased truck traffic, while supplementing those objections.
"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.
The land on which the well would be drilled is owned by the Parks System Trust Fund of Wheeling, and the lease is signed by members of the Wheeling Park Commission.
It goes on to note that the well site is less than a half-mile from the school and about 800 feet from athletic fields. It is also 150 feet from Park View Lane and 600 feet from the intersection of Park View Lane and Sonneborne Road, which, along with Springdale Hill Road, comprise all of the evacuation routes from the school's campus.
The letter cites nearly 20 news accounts of incidents involving explosions, fires, traffic accidents, injuries and deaths that have occurred at or near natural gas wells, some of which were owned by Chesapeake. It also claims Chesapeake has provided an inadequate safety plan to protect students, faculty, staff and the general public.
"Chesapeake's so-called safety plan is a farce," the letter states, "reflecting no contingency planning in the event of an explosion, spill or other disaster. This appears to have been put together by Chesapeake personnel completely unaware that the proposed well site is adjacent to a large public high school."
Ohio County Board of Education President Erik Schramm closed the meeting by saying, "The board of education still is strongly opposed to the proposed drill site - where it's located that near Wheeling Park High School. We hope to work with Chesapeake to see that it's moved. If it can't be, we're going to pursue all avenues to ensure that it doesn't happen there to the extent we can."