Pawhuska schools to open Monday

Nathan Thompson |

The school year will finally start Monday for Pawhuska Public School students and teachers after extensive environmental testing showed the buildings on campus are safe following the discovery of a gas purge in geothermal wells surrounding the high school.

The problem delayed the start of school, which was scheduled to begin Aug. 17.

Pawhuska School Superintendent Dr. Janet Neufeld announced Wednesday the State Fire Marshal had cleared the area after testing indicated there is not an air quality hazard at the high school.

Adam Adams, a coordinator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 office, has been in Pawhuska monitoring the situation since the natural gas purge was reported.

“In addition to the EPA air monitoring conducted in and around the high school and at the request and concerns by the community, EPA conducted volatile organic compound air monitoring in the breathing zone in eight additional Pawhuska school facilities including the Indian Camp Elementary, Elementary school, and Junior high school, and measured no hazardous air quality conditions on Wednesday,” Adams said.

The EPA is continuing to conduct real-time air monitoring in the high school building and surrounding area to assist the State Fire Marshal, Adams said. To date, all air monitoring levels have also been below EPA screening levels for hazardous chemicals.

The gas leak was discovered over the summer, Neufeld said. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board reported 28 geothermal wells were drilled on the campus in 2012 to help provide natural heating for Pawhuska public xchools. Two of the wells are seeping natural gas from an unknown source.

To deal with the situation, a venting system is being installed on the two geothermal wells that are purging methane gas. The system will allow the gas to vent above the roof-line of the surrounding buildings.

Additionally, the Osage Nation Mineral Council with assistance from state and federal agencies will re-plug at least two abandoned oil wells on the school’s campus that are suspected to be the cause of the gas purge.

“The Pawhuska Public Schools would like to give recognition to the tribal, state, and federal agencies that have assisted during the gas leak challenges,” Neufeld said. “We express our sincere gratitude to the support, resources, and expertise shared with school district officials in creating and maintaining a safe environment for our students and staff.”

The school district’s website has information posted about bus routes, school start times and the school handbooks. Additionally, Neufeld said school administrators will be contacting staff regarding specific information about the time all building personnel will be available to prepare for the start of school on Monday.