By Glynis Board WV PBS
August 26, 2013 · The natural gas boom is continuing to sound in a big way throughout the northern panhandle. Some analysts estimate gas production from West Virginia will increase by about 50 percent this year. That means more neighborhood drill pads throughout the northern counties. Residents, businesses and schools are adjusting their lives. Cameron High School in Marshall County is one school trying to make the best of a changing landscape.
Cameron, WV. It’s one of those towns that isn't close to anything—if you’re there accidentally, you’re lost. But visit this remote town these days and you’re likely to end up in traffic jams all along the twisting, turning ridge-top roads that you have to take to get there. Traffic jams largely on account of the heavy machinery that’s winding its way throughout the county, setting up one natural gas horizontal well drill pad after the next. But then, all of a sudden, you’ll come to a huge and modern shining building up on a hill. Cameron High School. Looks like it dropped out of a space ship—albeit a very large space ship.
A New School
The school opened in January 2013. The 340 or so students—7th grade through 12th—haven’t been treading the halls long enough to scuff any of the hallways yet, which, by the way, measure out at about a mile and a quarter. It took all of two hours to look through the entire building with Jack Cain, the principal. He says there were a lot of obstacles getting the $31.8 million building constructed, but even though it took an extra year to get in the door, it was worth the wait. “It’s just got everything you would ever want in a school, ” says CHS principal Jack Cain.
There are 480 computers plus laptop carts and smart boards in all of the classrooms. There’s diffused natural light throughout the building, and a state-of-the-art, German-designed, ductless heating and cooling system. They’re working on building an outdoor classroom in the forest hillside just out of the side of the building and down the hallway from the science classrooms. Music, art, an auditorium, and there’s a special, USDA-approved meat lab for their animal processing class.
“The students raise the animals at home and we can process them here. They make summer sausage, kilbosi, they package meat for themselves, it’s really neat. Then we have an auction in March in Moundsville where they sell their hams and bacons and they make around $70,000 each year that goes directly to the students.”
It’s a beautiful school. Kids and teachers love it. The glass front reflects the rolling hill landscape that hugs the town and school in its folds. But there’s concern about how long the view will last. The rumor mill is promising more and more drill pads, and all the traffic, pipelines, and natural gas processing facilities that come with them.
A New Pad
And at least one of those rumors is quickly working its way into reality—TransEnergy, a natural gas company, has submitted a request to the Department of Environmental Protection for a permit to drill a well just over 3600 feet from the new school. Vice principal Wyatt O’Neil is fielding questions.
“We’ve had some parents and some teachers and I imagine once more find out there’s going to be more questions. We’re anticipating the questions and concerns to come our way and that’s what we’re preparing for right now.”
Administrators at the school as well as parents and teachers are concerned about this new well pad so close to where students run track, and play other sports. There are air quality and traffic concerns. But no one from the school wants to complain too vocally.
In the face of so many drill pads, it would seem that resistance is futile.
So instead, they’re hoping that keeping open lines of communication between themselves and the companies that are moving in will provide greater opportunity to address problems as they rise.
The school recently met with TransEnergy to discuss logistics should their drilling permit be approved.
O’Neil says it was a well-organized meeting by the Marshall County Emergency Management Office between that office, TransEnergy, CHS, WV DEP, and the superintendent of Marshall County Schools.
School officials are trying to remain positive and prepare students for what might be a career in that field. A couple gas companies are helping to that end. They've donated several hundred thousand dollars for special classes and teacher training.
“This year we’re starting a new program called Project Lead the Way," says Principal Cain, "which is a new engineering program. Chevron has donated a lot of money to get the program started. We’ll start it in the 7th grade. Each year it progresses and by the time they’re seniors they’ll be ready for an engineering program.”
“Then we’re also starting a Junior Achievement program this year in our 8th grade, which will make our 8th graders aware of the different energy industries that are here in their county. We’ll have different people coming in from the gas wells and mining programs and tell our students what type of education they need to get if they want to graduate and get a job in that area.”
Administrators expect the TransEnergy drill pad could be a reality by spring. TransEnergy said it was too early to comment at this point as the work they are currently doing near Cameron is still just in the speculative stages.
Meanwhile the rumor mill keeps churning about more pads and the community is bracing for what they’re
expecting to be fifty-years of a gas-drilling reality.