Carroll County in east central Ohio is at the center of the oil and gas drilling boom, and the local school district wants to tap into that boom – literally.
After all, rural schools are no longer as poor as they once were because of the discovery of oil and gas in the state, and often on school property. At least that’s the assumption made by Governor John Kasich in his new school funding formula.
“We’re in hopefully a prosperous time where there will be the oil and gas boom and it will impact positively our school district,” says David Quattrochi, superintendent of Carrollton Exempted Schools in Carroll County.
But he says money won’t start flowing from those wells for a couple more years.
“Until then we still have to survive with what we have,” Quattrochi says. “We haven’t seen anything yet as far as any revenue from the oil and gas other than the initial lease signings, but we do have the potential to have profit.”
Drilling on School Lands
Carrollton Schools signed a lease with Chesepeake Energy for six to eight wells on school property. It’s unclear when drilling will start, but the district hopes some time this year. The wells will go onto school property about 850 feet behind the district administration building and about 1000 feet from some athletic fields.
Quattrochi says the district got about $400,000 from signing bonuses, which they used to supplement their general fund and make up for cuts in state and federal funding.
Once oil and gas start flowing, the district will get 18 percent of royalties, but that may not be for another five years or so.
Carrollton may be the first district with a deep injection well on school property, but dozens of other school districts have signed leases with oil companies.
Finding oil and gas on school property could have a big effect on schools’ budgets, “should they be fortunate enough to hit a good well,” says Fred Graft, president of Worthington Energy Consultants. His company works with school districts to help them negotiate drilling leases.
Signing a Good Deal
Graft says in the early days of the fracking boom, many school districts signed less than stellar deals.He says one district allowed the drilling company to use any wells they dug but decided not to produce from as disposal wells. That means the company could use school property to dump dirty and contaminated fracking water.
Another district gave the drilling company unlimited use of their well water supply. Graft says unlimited use could deplete a districts wells.
He says you need to be smart about the lease you sign, preferably with the help of a good lawyer.
But, he says fracking is pretty safe by now.
Not everyone agrees.
Safety and Health Risks
“I would absolutely be concerned to have this kind of highly industrialized activity on a locality that would be close to where our children are either in the classroom or at play outside where the staff, whether it be teachers or other administration would be exposed to that risk on a regular basis,” says Paul Feezel, chair of Carroll Concerned Citizens.
Feezel worries about air pollution, water contamination, spills or even explosions as a result of oil and gas drilling.
The degree of risk from fracking is in dispute and research is ongoing.
Still, Feezel empathizes with schools, which in some rural parts of the state are in disrepair and are struggling.
A Lot of Money
Some school officials have drawn their own conclusion.
And there is a lot of money to be made.
“I hear things like we have more oil than Saudi Arabia,” says Tom Wheaton, a Carroll County Commissioner.
Wheaton says the drilling boom could go on for another 50 years.
If he’s right, the schools’ payday from shale could very well become an ongoing cash cow.
But that day is two or more years off, which means the governor’s assumption about newfound rural prosperity may be a bit premature.