WELLSBURG - The Brooke Hills Park board has entered into an agreement allowing for the park to receive royalties for natural gas drawn from nearly 100 acres there.
The Brooke County Commission approved the agreement at its Dec. 20 meeting.
Bill Watson, the board's legal counsel, noted the board, formally known as the Brooke County Park and Recreation Commission, had entered into a lease agreement with Chesapeake Appalachia allowing the company to drill for natural gas under park grounds.
But park officials said later they learned mineral rights for much of the property belonged to descendants of the Gist family, who donated the land to the county more than 40 years ago.
That resulted in the park being poised to receive royalties for 22 acres only, though the park commission received a $750,000 signing fee for the lease.
Cathy Hervey, the park commission's past president, said a search of mineral rights for the property revealed much of them fell to the park after all.
She said the park is expected to receive about 18 percent of royalties for natural gas drilled from more than 90 acres there.
Walter Ferguson, the board's newly elected president, confirmed crews with Chesapeake have drilled a vertical well at the park and hope to begin a horizontal one soon.
Since September crews have been working in a wooded area at the rear of the park near Pierce Run Road.
They had hoped to access the site from Pierce Run Road. But that would require them to cross the creek, so they have built a road to the park's main road instead, scheduling their hauling around such fall events as the Brooke County Fair and Brooke Hills Spooktacular.
Natural gas drilling involves a controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing. It entails blasting the underground Marcellus shale with water, sand and chemicals, some of them toxic, to release the natural gas.
Gas industry officials say the drilling occurs thousands of feet below water tables and wells are heavily sealed with concrete and steel to prevent the fluid from leaking into the ground.
Opponents point to incidents in which wastewater from the process was spilled outside the wells or methane from abandoned coal mines was released, resulting in fires.
Park board members said in January officials with Chesapeake have assured them the park won't be harmed. They noted the lease will be a major source of revenue for the park, which has struggled financially in recent years.
Asked how the board will use the signing fee or royalties paid for the gas tapped there, Ferguson said the board has made plans to hire an architect to aid it in developing a plan for improvements.
He noted replacing the park's aging swimming pool with a water park and adding an ice skating rink are ideas that have been suggested.
Chesapeake also has approached the park commission for an easement allowing it to build an underground transmission line to transport the gas from the site.
Ferguson said the board is still negotiating for the easement and construction of the transmission line is still a few years away.
In other business, the commission appointed Kenneth Fletcher to the park commission and Mike Bachinski to the county's planning commission.
The commissioners also agreed to contact, for more information, several individuals who applied for a vacant seat on the Brooke County Public Service District board.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)