WHEELING - As the drill bit on Chesapeake Energy's natural gas rig burrows through the earth at the Timmy Minch pad in Ohio County, the company plans to use the resulting well to frack under Oglebay Park.
This is but another step toward the city of Wheeling and the Wheeling Park Commission collecting royalties for the minerals the organizations jointly leased to Chesapeake in late 2009.
"We anticipate to finish drilling this well in mid-July. Well completion is scheduled to occur in the fourth quarter of 2012," said Chesapeake spokeswoman Jacque Bland in referring to a range of October to December.
Well completion involves the fracking process. After the drilling phase is finished, companies like Chesapeake begin fracking which involves blasting millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand thousands of feet into the well to break the Marcellus or Utica shale. Then and only then can Chesapeake retrieve the valuable natural gas, oil, ethane, butane, propane and pentane trapped within.
"The timeline for production has not yet been determined," Bland added, as the company needs to establish a network of gathering lines and transmission lines for the wells at the Minch pad to begin yielding gas.
In late 2009, Wheeling City Council voted 6-1, with Councilman Robert "Herk" Henry opposing, to allow Chesapeake to draw gas from the Oglebay property. The Wheeling Park Commission - a separate entity tasked with overseeing Oglebay and Wheeling Park - is set to evenly split 14 percent worth of production royalties for any gas produced from the Oglebay land with the city. In early 2010, the commission and city each gained $386,629 in lease payments from Chesapeake as part of the drilling contract for the Oglebay land.
Chesapeake's original drilling plans 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 filed objections with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection regarding the drilling project, primarily questioning Chesapeake's plans for water usage and the disposal of fracking fluid, among several other concerns.
Chesapeake eventually established the Minch pad plan for gaining the Oglebay gas.
According to documents on file in the Ohio County Clerk's Office, Chesapeake's drilling pad for the Minch well consists of 543 acres pooled together from 27 separate leases held by the company in the Oglebay Park area. The majority of this acreage - 322.5 acres - is in the name of the Wheeling Park Commission and the city of Wheeling.
The natural gas trapped under Oglebay Park will then be accessed via horizontal drilling, a technique that allows drillers to access gas in a pooled unit from a central well site. That means no drilling equipment will be located on the surface of Oglebay Park's property.
Though Chesapeake is actively drilling at the Minch well, the company is still awaiting permission from the West Virginia DEP to grant permission to drill about 1,300 feet away from Wheeling Park High School and the "Patriot Field" baseball facility. The planned well will be drilled on land leased to Chesapeake by the Parks System Trust Fund of Wheeling, an organization supervised by members of the Wheeling Park Commission.
Commission attorney James Gardill said these two bodies are officially separate, though the signatories on the lease for the land near the high school are the park commissioners. The commission is tasked with overseeing the operations at Oglebay Resort and Wheeling Park.
"No change the permit application is still under review," Bland said when asked about the permit, which meets all basic legal requirements established by the West Virginia Legislature and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
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.