Leaking gas cancels classes Monday, Tuesday

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

No classes Monday or Tuesday at Pawhuska public schools as school district, state and federal officials try to get a handle on methane gas leaks on the high school campus.

Classes were scheduled to begin Thursday, but the start of school has been postponed to at least Wednesday as officials seek solutions to methane gas leaks in geothermal wells on school grounds.

Superintendent Janet Neufeld said the Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 office is monitoring the high school building and surrounding area to help the State Fire Marshal determine when a possible school start date will be considered.

A town hall meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the Pawhuska Community Center, 520 Lynn Ave., to share information and provide answers to the community.

Many tribal, state and federal agencies have worked to find the origin of the gas purge and determine its effect on the high school campus.

One of the first steps will be to plug a gas well located on the school’s softball athletic field. It will be plugged by the authority and jurisdiction of the Osage Minerals Council with financial help from the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management, Neufeld said.

The Oklahoma Water Resource Board is the leading the investigation. Agency spokesman Cole Perryman said several geothermal wells on the PHS campus are leaking methane, and the state agency is working to find a licensed driller to cap the wells.

“The federal and star agencies with jurisdictional authority have determined the first step to ensuring the public’s safety onsite will be to plug the impacted geothermal wells in the area, which are apparently leaking methane,” Perryman said.

Neufeld said a work group of tribal, state and federal officials are meeting daily to determine a course of “discussion and action.”

“The school district would like to express appreciation for the concerns regarding the Pawhuska Public School community provided by the leadership of our tribal, state and federal partners,” Neufeld said.

The Pawhuska High School football team has been able to continue practicing for its Friday season opener against Kellyville. The team’s practice field is located on the block adjacent to campus.

“The practice field is separated from the problem area,” PHS Coach Joe Tillman told the J-C following the Barnsdall scrimmage. “It hasn’t been a concern of ours at all. It’s mainly for the school and the operation of the high school. “We are hoping they can get it cured, get it fixed and everybody can get back to school.”

The team’s scrimmage against Barnsdall on Friday was moved from Ormand Beach Memorial Stadium to Barnsdall. The scrimmage lasted approximately 90 minutes.

Tillman said he and Athletic Director Chris Walker will monitor the gas purge situation early in the week and determine if the Kellyville game can be played at Ormand Beach Memorial Stadium this Friday.

If not, Tillman and Walker would work with Kellyville school officials to determine if Kellyville could host the game Friday.

“We should know something by Monday. We had to switch here (for the scrimmage) and they did a great job of switching with us. So, if we have to switch with Kellyville, I’m sure we will get the same cooperation from them,” Tillman said.