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Explosion has no effect on wells near Capital High

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A recent massive natural gas explosion has no bearing on the decision to move forward with drilling three natural gas wells on Capital High School property, several members of the county school board said.

In February, Spencer-based Reserve Oil & Gas approached the board about drilling the wells. The school system asked for bids on the project in October, purchasing director Tim Easterday said. Reserve was the only company to respond.

Pending approval from the school system's legal department and the board of education, Reserve can proceed with the project.

Pete Thaw, school board president, said the explosion of a gas transmission line last week in Sissonville shouldn't stop construction.

"I'm not going to let Columbia blowing up a 50-year-old gas line scare me," Thaw said Wednesday in a phone interview.

Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of Indiana-based NiSource, owns the pipeline that exploded. The line was laid in the 1990s, and the line's wall had thinned drastically, officials revealed last week.

Although no one was seriously injured, the blast sent a massive fireball hundreds of feet into the air within miles of four public schools.

That gave board member Robin Rector cause for concern.

"Certainly now with everything that's happened in last few weeks ... I've got to have some huge assurances with the safety for this," Rector said Wednesday in a phone interview.

She said she understands the potential benefits to the project: the county is set to earn some royalty money and free gas through the deal, and there's the potential for students to job-shadow workers at the site.

But she wants to know more about the safety measures Reserve will use than was explained to her during the company's original presentation.

None of the three wells Reserve wants to drill will be anywhere close to the school, company land manager Doug Douglass told the Daily Mail in October. Two of the wells will be across the road from the school and spaced 1,500 feet apart. The third is in the "westernmost corner of the property on the same side of the road as the school," according to documents Reserve submitted with its bid.

Douglass did not return a call Wednesday.

There are connections between Reserve and Columbia, but the scope of the proposed work on the Capital site appears different than that which recently exploded, according to Reserve's bid document and Daily Mail records.

In conjunction with its sister company, United Gas Pipeline, Reserve has built "a substantial gas gathering pipeline system" near Capital, according to the bid documents. That system can deliver Reserve's production to either a Mountaineer Gas pipeline or multiple Columbia transmission pipelines. Columbia is also referred to as TCO in the bid document.

"At present and due to the significant cost advantages, 100 percent of Reserve's production is delivered to TCO pipelines," Reserve's bid documents state.

However, the systems Reserve uses to transport its gas are not the same as the Columbia line in question, according to the bid document.

The capacity of a proposed pipeline at the Capital site is smaller than that of the line that exploded as well. At Capital, Reserve proposes burying one 4-inch pipeline with a capacity to transport gas at up to 200 pounds per square inch, according to bid documents. The company plans to operate the pipeline at about 100 pounds per square inch.

The Columbia line that exploded was 20 inches in diameter and could accommodate up to 1,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.

In Thaw's opinion, the two are completely different. Fellow board members Bill Raglin and Becky Jordon agreed.

"The (Colubmia) transmission line, that's moving larger quantities, and most likely at different pressures," Raglin said. "We have wells of this type all over the state and have been using them for many, many years, and I don't think there are any problems here that would relate to the Sissonville encounter."

Capital sits on 176 acres of property so there will be plenty of space between the school and any wells, facilities director Chuck Wilson has said. Considering school system facilities use an average $33,500 worth of natural gas per year, Wilson and others think the safe retrieval of the gas can save the county money.

The county spent about $1.5 million on natural gas last year, Easterday has said.

Reserve will pay the county 12.5 percent of proceeds from the sale of gas welled from the site, as well as a $10-per-acre rental fee. The county also will receive 200,000 cubic feet of free gas per well, an estimated annual total savings of $6,000.

Any gas purchased after that amount comes at about a 10 percent discount, the bid documents state.

In the last three years the state Department of Environmental Protection issued three minor violations against Reserve, according to bid documents. All were posted and corrected on the same day, the document states.

"Due to drilling a large number of wells in close proximity to urban and residential areas, we believe Reserve's operations are subject to greater scrutiny than many of our peers," the bid document states.

"Reserve prides itself in its demonstrated history of meeting and exceeding all health, safety and environmental regulations..." the document continues.

The company already drills in the area and anticipates there is substantial gas in what it refers to as Lower Huron shale. The three proposed wells will be vertical, but the company states it could use horizontal techniques at the site.

It does not use hydraulic fracturing, what many typically refer to as fracking, but it employs "gas fracking." Instead of accessing the natural gas by blasting it with water, the company uses nitrogen gas.

That means it uses about 21,000 gallons of water to drill its wells, compared to the millions used for Marcellus wells. Gas fracking is typically completed in one day, the document states.

Reserve will also submit a plan for well drilling procedures and site safety, according to the bid documents. Easterday said Tuesday the county did not yet have that document, but the school system will work closely with the company to ensure the site is safe.

No drilling would take place when school is in session, Wilson said in October. He did not return a call Wednesday. Capital Principal Clinton Giles said in October he approved of the plan if it was safe and meant reduced energy costs for Capital. He did not return a call Wednesday.

Easterday will present more details about the project to the board during its regular meeting slated for 6 p.m. today at school board headquarters on Elizabeth Street in Charleston.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at




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