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Bethany College gets in the gas business

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SUZANNE ELLIOTT / For The State Journal. The view from Old Main, a historic building group on Bethany College’s campus, shows no sign of Chesapeake Energy’s presence. SUZANNE ELLIOTT / For The State Journal. The view from Old Main, a historic building group on Bethany College’s campus, shows no sign of Chesapeake Energy’s presence.

By SUZANNE ELLIOTT
For The State Journal

In the Village of Bethany, you will find Bethany College, a post office and Chambers General Store. And on a hot summer morning, you’ll be lucky to see a car on Main Street.

But just on the outskirts of the village, on college-owned land along tree-lined Route 88, is another story.

On the land, just visible through a copse of trees sits a gas well. The college, like many landowners in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, has leased some of its land to oil companies to frack.

In 2011, the small liberal arts college entered into an agreement with Chesapeake Energy Corp. that allows the Oklahoma City-based company to drill for gas on non-campus land owned by the college, following three years of research by the college and its trustees. To date, one well is on college property. Financial terms have not been disclosed by either side, but the college indicated in 2011 that revenue from the well would be used to enhance the school’s academic offerings and endowment.

“We have thoroughly explored all aspects of Marcellus Shale drilling, as well as the capabilities and commitments we can expect from Chesapeake Energy Corp.,” said Scott Miller, president of Bethany College. “Like many of our West Virginia neighbors in Brooke, Ohio and Marshall counties, we concluded that we should take advantage of this opportunity that could contribute significantly to the college’s long-term growth and development.

“In doing so, we recognize and embrace our responsibility as a prominent college and large landowner to be good stewards of our environment and ensure the safety of our community. We have and will continue to work closely with Chesapeake Energy to protect the natural surroundings and the quality of life in the region.”

Driving through the campus and adjacent village of Bethany on a July day, it is impossible to detect any presence or impact made by Chesapeake Energy’s nearby well. The well site itself is camouflaged by trees. Large, white-colored tanks can just be seen from Route 88 on land — 1,300 acres — donated to the college in 1914 by the Parkinson family. The college is free to use the land at its discretion, as long as no mature trees are removed, said Rebecca Rose, a Bethany spokeswoman.