Company Won’t Fund City Project

Fracking ban keeps Chesapeake at bay

Morgantown Dominion Post
2 September 2011
By Tracy Eddy

Chesapeake Energy stopped talking about donations with Main Street Morgantown after the city banned fracking, the downtown nonprofit’s Executive Director Terri Cutright said.

Chesapeake said donations to Morgantown projects won’t be made until the ban is gone for good.

Stacey Brodak, Chesapeake spokeswoman, said “It is important we dedicate our company’s resources where our industry is supported.” The company is sticking to that policy even though the city’s ban has been overturned by a circuit court judge, she said, because the city hasn’t rescinded the ban and still has the option to appeal.

Chesapeake will continue to support Monongalia County projects “where our industry is operating,” Brodak said.

Some city officials said the company’s decision not to donate is disappointing. Mayor Jim Manillia also said that it’s Chesapeake Energy’s prerogative to decide where and when it will make donations to community organizations and projects.

Brodak said Main Street Morgantown asked the company for $25,000 to go to the Morgantown Market Place — a pavilion planned for the Morgantown Farmers Market and other events. The company was considering it, but had not formally approved the donation.

Cutright said Main Street Morgantown and the company had some “very positive conversations” about the possible contribution.

But after City Council passed its fracking ban, Chesapeake called Main Street Morgantown to say the donation wouldn’t happen.

“When the Morgantown City Council approved their ban on drilling and fracking for one mile outside the city limits, we had to decline further consideration,” Brodak said.

Chesapeake’s decision not to make a donation to the Morgantown Market Place doesn’t change the pavilion project, Cutright said — it will still move forward.

And as far as Main Street Morgantown’s relationship with the company? “We’ll always be optimistic they’ll come back around the table again,” Cutright said.

Chesapeake Energy gave Main Street Morgantown $15,000 for the pavilion last year.

City Council unanimously passed a law to ban horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) in June. Northeast Natural Energy — the company drilling two Marcellus wells in Morgantown Industrial Park — and Enrout Properties LLC — the company that owns the industrial park — filed suit against the city shortly thereafter.

Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Susan Tucker overturned the city’s ban in August. The city has four months to decide if it will appeal the decision. Manilla said city officials haven’t made a decision yet.

Brodak said Chesapeake Energy hopes the company can once again develop a mutually beneficial partnership with the city.

“Ideally, we would be welcomed by the community to operate,” she said. “But at a minimum we would like to see some finality to the decision allowing our industry to continue with our development plans before we could continue with additional philanthropy.”

Manilla said he wasn’t surprised by Chesapeake’s decision to discontinue donations in the city, because the company did the same in Wellsburg — the first West Virginia city to pass a fracking ban.

Chesapeake Energy withdrew a promised $30,000 donation for band instruments at Wellsburg Middle School in July.

“I thought that’s probably what they were going to do,” Manilla said.

Councilman Bill Byrne said he would hope that Chesapeake Energy would understand the city’s concern for its well-being. Byrne was the city’s mayor when council passed the ban.

“We’re in the business of protecting the quality of life for our community,” he said.

The city was responding to a specific situation — the two Marcellus wells being drilled at Morgantown Industrial Park and about 3,000 feet from the area’s water intake — when it passed the ban, Byrne said. At the time, there were no comprehensive regulations for Marcellus shale drilling, especially regarding how wells were sited.