CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County Parks and Recreation commissioners voted Thursday to permit a gas company to drill a natural gas well on Shawnee Park property.
The company, Reserve Oil & Gas, plans to drill the well in an area between a set of railroad tracks south of the main portion of the park and the Kanawha River.
It has not yet applied for a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to the DEP's website.
Reserve also has drilled wells at Coonskin Park, Capital High School, Yeager Airport and West Virginia State University in recent years.
Doug Douglass, a land manager for Reserve, said the company recently acquired a pipeline that runs through Shawnee Park to West Virginia State University and wanted to connect the proposed Shawnee Park well to that pipeline.
Douglass said the well would be similar to others the company has drilled on public property.
Such wells are vertical and are fractured using compressed nitrogen gas — a vastly different process from the controversial hydraulic fracturing method, also known as "fracking."
Parks commission members wanted to make sure recreation areas in the park and park patrons wouldn't be disturbed during the process.
"You wouldn't even see us," Douglass said. "We wouldn't be in the grass area."
Besides Coonskin Park, the parks commission has leased land for wells on property it owns in Charleston. The wells generate several thousand dollars annually in royalties for the park system, and the parks commission is also entitled to a set amount of free natural gas for its own purposes.
The free gas will begin to be made available this spring after Reserve Oil & Gas made an agreement with Mountaineer Gas — the parks commission's provider — to credit the gas to the parks system.
The parks commission voted to allow the gas drilling at Shawnee Park, provided a lease agreement is the same as existing gas agreements between the parks commission and Reserve.
The lease comes as a surface lease is pending for Shawnee Park, in which the city of Dunbar will take control of the park at the beginning of next month.
Although parks commissioners and Dunbar officials have approved the lease, it must also be approved by the National Park Service, Hutchinson said.
Of the parks commission's four employees at Shawnee, three will transfer to Dunbar and one will remain with the parks commission.
"They're getting a pretty good package and they're keeping their jobs," Hutchinson said of the employees being transferred to Dunbar.
He said in the 10 years he has been in his current position, the parks system has been reduced from 36 full-time employees to 18, a figure that includes those going to Dunbar. Those reductions have come from retirements and employees leaving, and "as people have left, we've not replaced them," he said.
In other business, the commission: