EL checking out gas wells

“I think the board is interested in doing something,” Elk Lake Superintendent William Bush said. “It’s just a matter of now getting a chance to sit and talk.”

Since a special meeting on Dec. 11, Bush and school board members have begun to contact other school districts that have natural gas wells.

The board expects to discuss the subject at its Jan. 15 meeting and must still agree to develop specifications for bids.

“I still want to verify everything,” board president Charles Place said, noting that he has begun to research the Internet and remains concerned about a well’s affect on the groundwater.

Other school districts in Pennsylvania are also dealing with natural gas wells, such as the Penn Hills School District near Pittsburgh.

“Everybody wins,” Penn Hills School Board member Barry Patterson said, noting that wells on the school’s property have generated tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. “It went right into the general fund.”

The school district contracted with Penneco Oil Company in 2001 and is getting a 12.5 percent royalty and gas for its buildings, Mr. Patterson said.

Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association president Stephen Roads, based in Bainbridge, said that a bed of shale runs through all of the state.

He added that companies are now becoming interested in the eastern half of Pennsylvania.

The state now has 49,750 producing natural gas wells, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“These wells can be very prolific,” Roads added. “A good royalty on a good lease can make somebody very happy.”

He said that royalties run at 12 percent at the minimum. Companies also provide a per acre fee that can be worth as much as hundreds of dollars.

During the Dec. 11 Elk Lake School Board meeting, a Chesapeake Appalachia representative said that a one-time payment of $750 per acre was made as part of a lease for a well in Wayne County.

Along with money, school districts in the western part of the state that have contracted with a natural gas company say that initially there were other concerns.

For instance, Penneco Oil Company agreed to not drill during the night, according to Patterson.

“You have drilling equipment and all the noise, vehicles and equipment to drill the well,” Patterson said.

The agreement also stipulated that a well is capped and the area is restored after it is no longer used.

The wells are enclosed in a 20-by-20 foot chain link fence and are connected to pumps and pipes.

The Plum Borough School District in Pittsburgh also has wells operated by Penneco Oil Company that are now capped, according to Superintendent George Cooke.

Cooke noted that the board was also concerned about noise and safety, but felt “very comfortable” entering into an agreement after learning about the company.

He also encouraged other school districts to thoroughly research a company and its proposal.

Along with a royalty, gas produced by the wells is used in the district’s buildings.

“With the revenue, tax payers will not be burdened in future years,” Cooke said.

Although the school districts have had a good experience, wells that are not capped and are deteriorated can harm the environment and be a public safety concern, according to DEP spokesperson Helen Humphreys.

She said that most wells that were not capped were drilled in the early 20th century. Now, it is uncommon to find an uncapped well because of the permitting process, she added.

“It’s a significant violation if it does happen,” Humphreys said.