By CASEY JUNKINS
BETHANY, W.Va. - Citing their confidence in federal and state regulators to limit the environmental impact around Bethany College, school officials believe the Chesapeake Energy natural gas drilling project on college property is a positive development.
"All necessary precautions have been taken to minimize any potential impact to neighboring property holders and the Bethany community. Bethany College and Chesapeake Energy Corp. are committed to insuring that all procedural, environmental and safety regulations are consistently met," said Bethany spokeswoman Rebecca Rose.
Last year, Chesapeake signed an agreement with Bethany to drill on the Parkinson Farm property owned by the college. The Oklahoma City-based driller has since completed the well pad. The land on which drilling will occur is located on the east side of W.Va. 88, north of the college and town limits of Bethany.
According to the college's website, Bethany officials believe Chesapeake will begin drilling the well by the end of this year, with plans for gas extraction to begin by next summer. Officials believe this will be nothing more than a minor inconvenience for those in the college community.
"We have safely drilled thousands of horizontal wells in urban settings, near schools and near other public facilities across the country," said Chesapeake spokeswoman Jacque Bland. "Safety of area residents, our workers and the environment is always our top priority."
According to the college's website, Chesapeake is required to "avoid any contact at all with the campus." The company must also not disturb timber or water sources on college land and maintain fences and gates for safety. A safety plan for the area has been assembled by local emergency officials.
Some environmental advocates have expressed concern with Chesapeake's project, including some who have also voiced opposition to Chesapeake's plans to drill a well roughly 1,300 feet from Wheeling Park High School. However, Bethany and Chesapeake officials believe the project will be safe.
Bethany's Board of Trustees authorized the terms of the deal. In accordance with the contract, monetary terms of the agreement are not being disclosed by either party. As a private institution, Bethany is not obligated to publicly disclose the terms of the agreement.
"Bethany, the oldest college in the state of West Virginia, will invest in the people and programs of the college," Rose said when asked about plans for the resulting funds.
Information on the website notes that the college's "endowment stands at approximately $40 million - a level that it is too low and must grow to ensure the college's long-term stability." It further states the funds gathered from the drilling can help supplement the school's endowment to "provide added resources for more competitive faculty salaries and campus improvements - all of which are extremely important to the long term health and well being of the college."
More information regarding the Chesapeake drilling project on Bethany College property is available on the college's website, www.bethanywv.edu.