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Zoning board approves gas well near Capital High School

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Natural gas drilling will begin within the next month about 400 yards from Capital High School in Charleston.

The last hurdle for drilling to begin was cleared Thursday when the Charleston Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved a permit for Reserve Oil & Gas to build a well on Kanawha County Board of Education property.

The well will be southwest of the high school, about 300 yards north-northeast from the intersection of Greenbrier Street and Coonskin Drive.

Doug Douglass, the land manager for Reserve Oil & Gas, said building the well site would take about a week, and then drilling would take two more weeks. Douglass said drilling would be entirely during the daytime on weekdays, except for possibly one or two nights at the end of the drilling process.

Once the drilling is complete, the well should pump, largely unattended, for up to 50 years, Douglass said.

He said the sound during drilling is about 95 decibels, a level the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put on par with power tools or a snowmobile.

The well site has moved about 100 feet closer to the school than the original site, proposed last year. That site was too close to residences off Coonskin Drive. The well must be at least 500 feet from any structures.

The company plans to build a shallow vertical Devonian Shale natural gas well. The well will be about 4,700 feet deep.

The well will not use hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, in which millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand or chemicals, is pumped down the well at high pressure to fracture the underlying shale and release the gas, Douglass said.

The shale will be fractured with pressurized nitrogen gas, rather than the water-based slurry used in fracking.

The fracture will occur 1,800 feet below the surface, according to the application Reserve Oil & Gas filed with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

That application says, at the drill site, there is a layer of fresh groundwater at a depth of about 200 feet and salt water at depths up to about 1,200 feet.

The DEP approved Reserve's application on June 26.

The lease agreement that Reserve signed with the Kanawha Board of Education calls for the school board to receive 12.5 percent of the proceeds from the sale of gas that is collected from the well.

The school system also will receive 200,000 cubic feet of free gas from the well. Wholesale prices for natural gas are currently about $4 per 1,000 cubic feet, which would translate to about $800 in free gas. The school system would receive a 10 percent discount on any gas it purchased after that 200,000 cubic feet.

Reserve Oil & Gas originally submitted plans to build three wells around the high school. Douglass said the company still has plans to build two more wells, but is focusing on one at a time right now.

Reserve Oil & Gas operates 157 active gas wells in West Virginia, according to DEP records. Douglass it has drilled about 85 wells in Kanawha County over the past few years, including three within Charleston city limits.

Also at the zoning meeting, the board cleared the way for a Charleston lobbying firm to buy the house owned by former state attorney general Darrell McGraw and former state schools superintendent Jorea Marple.

Once the sale goes through, the house across from the Capitol Complex on the corner of California Avenue and Quarrier Street will become the offices of Compensation Strategies, a lobbying firm that represents optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists and Mountaineer Casino, among others.

The sale required a variance from the zoning board because the house doesn't have enough parking spots for the amount of office space.

The house is 2,600 square feet and has four parking spots. City regulations require businesses to have one parking spot for every 300 square feet of office space.

Chad Robinson, a lobbyist with Compensation Strategies, said there will be just three employees working in the office and there are very few visitors who would park on site.

Robinson also said his existing office, a few blocks away on Washington Street, could provide overflow parking.

Husband and wife McGraw and Marple lost their jobs in November, when McGraw was defeated by current Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Marple was fired by the state Board of Education.

Staff writer Jim Balow contributed to this report.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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