Classes start for all students

Nathan Thompson |
Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner addressed the media Monday afternoon about the venting system installed at Pawhuska High School. The venting system will route purging methane gas from geothermal wells to the air above the building.

Nathan Thompson/Journal-Capital

After being delayed from starting class for almost two weeks, Pawhuska junior high and high school students returned to class Wednesday morning, after steps were taken to remediate a methane gas purge seeping from two geothermal wells directly outside of the building.

Pawhuska Superintendent Janet Neufeld said construction of a temporary venting system for two geothermal wells on the campus began over the weekend. The wells are leaking low levels of methane gas from an unknown source.

The venting system routes the gas above the high school’s roofline. Testing from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the State Fire Marshal indicates the venting system is working as it’s supposed to allowing class to begin at the junior high/high school.

Indian Camp Elementary and Pawhuska Elementary School began classes Monday, after environmental testing showed there were no air quality issues or hazardous conditions at those two sites.

“We want to make sure (the venting) is done correctly for the safety of our students and teachers,” Neufeld said. “That’s one of the reasons we decided to delay classes for the junior high and high school. Extensive environmental testing at Indian Camp Elementary and Pawhuska Elementary School showed those areas are safe for class to start on Monday.”

Indian Camp Elementary and Pawhuska Elementary School buildings house students in grades pre-k through sixth. Pawhuska High School serves seventh- through 12th-grades.

Classes were originally scheduled to begin Aug. 17. The discovery and remediation of the gas purge sites kept students and teachers from returning to school.

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 schools. Two of the wells are seeping natural gas from an unknown source.

Because of complex oil and gas drilling laws in Osage County, a collaboration of local, state, tribal and federal agencies have worked together to resolve the situation.

Matt Skinner, spokesman with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, said Monday the different agencies came together with a solution.

“In the end, the consortium decided the best way to handle this, to get the schools open in a safe manner was to vent this gas, and that’s what we accomplished over the weekend,” he said. “We have a venting system in and as of right now, all the readings around that (geothermal) well site are zero. We have no methane detected at all.”

Additionally, the Osage Nation Mineral Council, with assistance from state and federal agencies, are in the process of re-plugging an abandoned oil/gas well on the school’s softball field, suspected to be the cause of the gas purge.

Because of the ongoing effort to plug the well on the softball field, the area has been blocked off from the public and is being monitored by Pawhuska Police to keep trespassers out.

Another gas well that could potentially be the source of the purge is located north of the football practice field on private land. Skinner said the lessee has been ordered to plug the well by Osage Nation Mineral Council officials.