WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Board of Education has been asked to enter into an agreement that would permit natural gas drilling on any of the school district's 205 acres of property.
Brian Ferguson, the board's vice president, said the agreement would allow crews to drill for natural gas on any property occupied by a Brooke County school as well as any property owned by the school district that's not occupied by schools.
Ferguson said the safety of the schools and integrity of the land will be major concerns as the board considers the proposal.
The board met in executive session on March 26 to discuss the agreement but took no action.
Ferguson said Board President Jim Piccirillo, who was unable to attend the meeting, wanted to be present before a decision was made.
The board's next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. April 9 at its office at 1201 Pleasant Ave.
Ferguson said the interested party isn't Chesapeake Energy, which has been the primary company engaged in natural gas drilling in Brooke County, but wouldn't say who it was.
In February he said a landowners group also had approached the group about leasing.
Earlier he said the board hoped to negotiate a condition that would prevent a wellpad from being established on any property, but he said on Monday that doesn't appear likely to occur.
Barry DeWitt, a representative of Regional Land Services Inc., an Oklahoma City, Okla. firm working out of the Cross Law Office in Wellsburg, was hired by the board last month to negotiate a gas lease agreement on its behalf.
Ferguson said he couldn't comment on the lease payment or percentage of royalties the school district might receive.
Natural gas drilling has been a financial boon to many public and private entities.
In December the Martins Ferry school board entered into a lease agreement calling for it to receive a one-time payment of $381,150 and $4,950 per acre for up to 77 acres.
And officials with West Liberty University have announced plans to invest $1.4 million from a lease with Chesapeake into a new science center.
A boom in natural gas drilling has been spurred by the discovery of the Marcellus shale, a geological formation extending from New York to Tennessee.
The formation is believed to contain trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, enough to provide Americans for many years with a natural resource that's said to be more environmentally friendly.
But some environmental experts are concerned about natural gas drillers' use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a method that involves blasting water, sand and chemicals, some of them toxic, into the shale to release the gas.
The process has caused some controversy among scientists, some of whom have linked it to the contamination of groundwater, release of methane that occurs naturally in the ground and seismic activity.
Officials with the natural gas industry say the drilling occurs thousands of feet below groundwater levels and the gas wells are secured with several layers of concrete and steel casing.
Groups such as the West Virginia Surface Rights Owners Association note upper groundwater used for drinking can be contaminated by lower groundwater containing salt, sulfur and other undesirable material if the casings aren't installed properly or their installation is complicated by underground pockets.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a study to determine the practice's impact on groundwater in Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Texas and Colorado, including areas where contamination has been reported.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)