WHEELING - After months of anticipation and preparation, Chesapeake Energy has a drilling pad in place for Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction from the Gantzer well near The Highlands.
This, however, is far from the only area where Chesapeake is currently working to drill in Ohio County, as the Oklahoma City-based firm is crafting an additional well pad on Dement Road, about 2.5 miles from its intersection with W.Va. 88.
Gantzer (Highlands) Well
Photo by Casey Junkins
Construction workers are busy building a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well drilling pad on Dement Road in Ohio County, about 2.5 miles from its intersection with W.Va. 88.
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials have granted Chesapeake's permit to drill at the Gantzer site, located on private property on the south side of Interstate 70, west of the new Straub Honda & Hyundai dealership.
"The pad site is ready and the rig is anticipated to arrive within approximately 45-60 days depending on its availability," Chesapeake officials noted of the Gantzer site in a prepared statement provided by Stacey Brodak, director of corporate development.
Though there will be no drilling on the actual Highlands property, Ohio County Administrator Greg Stewart said Chesapeake will drill about 8,000 feet down into the ground on the Gantzer land.
The company will then turn the well horizontally toward The Highlands on the north side of I-70 to drain gas from the county's land.
Once gas starts flowing, county commissioners can cash in on the 18.75 percent royalties agreed to earlier this year. County officials also signed for lease payments of $3,600 per acre on about 2,180 acres, landing them $7.85 million from Chesapeake already.
"We are not yet budgeting for the royalties," Stewart said of county leaders. "We want to see what the first well does to see how much we are going to get from it before making more plans."
Stewart said those traveling west on I-70 should be able to see the very top of a drilling rig off in the distance, but he noted those exploring The Highlands' retail stores should not experience any problems.
Stewart said Chesapeake has not provided any information about its plans for water use at the site.
Other County Wells
In addition to the Gantzer permit, West Virginia environmental regulators have granted drilling approval for at least two other sites in Ohio County. State officials have granted permits for land in the names of "Glenn Didriksen" and "Esther Weeks."
"Chesapeake Appalachia has also applied to the WVDEP for permits to drill on the proposed Weeks and Didriksen locations and a drilling date will depend upon approval and receipt of those permits and rig availability," the Chesapeake prepared statement notes.
Efforts to contact Didriksen and Weeks were unsuccessful. However, residents and construction workers told the Sunday News-Register a road leading to the planned Didriksen well pad is being built north of Oglebay Park on Dement Road, about 2.5 miles from the intersection with W.Va. 88.
Stewart needs to only look at Ohio County's southern neighbors - Marshall and Wetzel counties - to see some of the hazards Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling can bring.
"Marshall County had a few significant incidents," he said. "This tends to put to some fear out there."
A Chesapeake gas well on Pleasants Ridge near Cameron ignited in September. For this incident, DEP officials cited Chesapeake for "failing to prevent the release of natural gas and the potential pollution of waters of the state."
An AB Resources well about 6 miles south of Moundsville exploded in June, after workers penetrated a methane pocket in an abandoned coal mine. State regulators ultimately cited AB Resources for failing to set casing at the permitted depth for the site and for inaccurately reporting coal seam depth.
There have also been traffic accidents involving gas rigs being transported on narrow, rural roads. And some residents have complained about possible water contamination and air pollution caused by drilling activity in Marshall and Wetzel counties.
As for the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," process drillers use to release gas by pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the shafts, professors at a recent University of Pittsburgh conference said fracking mobilizes uranium, which can cause liver and kidney problems.
Information provided by Halliburton Co. shows 98.47 percent of the material used for fracking is water and sand, with the remaining1.53 percent consisting of other chemicals. Some of the materials found in fracking fluid used by the company include: formaldehyde, ammonium chloride, acetic anhydride, methanol, hydrochloric acid, and propargyl alcohol.
Formaldehyde is, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." Most of the other chemicals, according to Halliburton, are found in common household products, such as shampoo and breakfast cereal.
Stewart said Ohio County Emergency Management Agency officials are working to make sure they are prepared in case anything goes wrong at any drilling sites. He also said Chesapeake will pay to extend the county's waterline closer to the drilling site to facilitate delivering water in the event of a fire.
"We have been through a couple training sessions - our guys have been to the Gantzer site," Stewart said. "We are becoming more educated about what to do and what not to do in case of an incident."
As for the environmental issues, Stewart said he believes in the DEP's ability to regulate the drilling.
"New regulations could be imminent," he said of state legislation that may increase the cost of crafting a single gas well from $600 to $15,000.
Stewart knows the prospect of having a plethora of Marcellus Shale wells throughout the county presents both an opportunity and a challenge, but he is looking on the bright side.
"We are cautiously optimistic that this can bring significant employment and revenue to the area," he noted. "It's just too early to say, though, because it all depends on how much gas they get from the wells."