WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Board of Education on Monday gave its approval for Chesapeake Energy to drill for natural gas beneath school property, a move board members said will be a major financial boost to the school district.
The agreement allows for natural gas to be drilled beneath any of up to 189 acres owned by the school board, with the school district to receive $3,500 per acre for each acre drilled and 18 percent of royalties for gas produced from the area or areas drilled.
Assistant Brooke County Prosecutor David F. Cross, the board's legal counsel, said a key point during negotiations for the lease was the board's desire that no well be built on school property and Chesapeake has agreed to that condition.
Cross said the agreement also states both parties must mutually agree on the locations of pipelines and access roads for the site.
The agreement allows underground drilling to occur at any property, throughout the county, belonging to the school district, but board officials acknowledged interest was expressed in land near Brooke High School.
They didn't know from where a well drawing from the site will be built or when construction will begin.
Cross said Chesapeake and Chevron both submitted proposals for leases, but Chesapeake was favored because it had secured leases surrounding the property so they were more likely to move forward with drilling, offered more money and agreed to the stipulation that a well not be built on any school property.
Board President Jim Piccirillo said, "We would do nothing to compromise the safety and well being of our students and staff. We wanted to keep our school grounds in pristine condition, especially at our Brooke High complex. We turned down larger sums of money to protect our schools."
Asked how the school board plans to use the additional money, Piccirillo said that decision will be made by the board as a whole, but he suggested it be used for special projects, such as improvements to school buildings or a fund that would be used for matches required of state or federal grants.
He said it wouldn't be used to provide artificial turf for the Brooke High football field, a project the school district's athletic facilities committee has been pursuing in recent months.
Board member Chad Haught said the potential negative impact of drilling to students and others, the aesthetics of the Brooke High School campus and possible plans to build further at the site outweighed additional funds the board might have received if it had allowed wells to be built there.
The school board has discussed consolidating the county's two middle schools into one that would be built near the high school.
The board's concerns about wells being built on school property stem from a practice used in natural gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing.
The procedure involves blasting the underground Marcellus shale formation with water, sand and chemicals, some of them toxic. Some scientists have linked the practice to contamination of groundwater and seismic activity.