Council hears gas drilling update

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by A.C. Hall

The relationship between the City of White Settlement and Chesapeake hasn’t been without its rocky times, many coming over the past year as council and members of city staff voiced issues they’ve had getting royalty information from the energy company.  Council member Danny Anderson even spent time voicing concerns about Chesapeake to the Railroad Commission that oversees it on a trip to Austin late in 2013.  

Chesapeake Energy has wells on this site near Las Vegas Trail in White Settlement.
Chesapeake Energy has wells on this site near Las Vegas Trail in White Settlement.

On Tuesday, Kevin Strawser of Chesapeake was on hand to speak to the council about his company and their plans for the near future.  One of the main issues council has had with Chesapeake is over royalty payments.  This was addressed after Strawser gave a brief presentation about Chesapeake and their operations within the city.

“Is every person in the area that signed the leases to you, are they getting a royalty check?” Council member Mike Arnold asked. Strawser answered, saying that all but one of the 8 drilling zones of the city should be getting royalties by now.

“If they signed a lease with Chesapeake and returned their paperwork to Chesapeake, their division orders, they should be in pay status and receiving royalties,” Strawser said.

Strawser went on to say that lease holders in the eighth and final zone of the city should receive royalty paperwork in the next month for them to fill out and send in, and royalties should start paying out for their area at some point after that time.

The total amount of money that has come into the City from Chesapeake was spoken about multiple times by Strawser, who also mentioned work his company has done in donating trees and computers to the city and school district.

“The total economic impact of all the bonuses we’ve paid thus far in your city is $9.5 million over the last seven years.  Of the royalties paid out, and this number is as of yesterday, we’ve paid out $7.8 million in royalties and those are dollars coming in every month to your citizens,” Strawser said.

After maintaining only a single drilling rig in the city over the past few years, Strawser said changes in the economy and climbing gas prices have made it a favorable time to bring in two more drilling rigs to White Settlement.  Chesapeake has submitted permits for six new wells at the Castleberry site in the north of the City, which will begin drilling in July if approved.  He also spoke about four more permits they will submit soon to do drilling elsewhere in the city later this year.

Strawser spoke about the importance of maintaining the integrity of wells so there is no contamination of the drinking water.  He showed several graphics that illustrated the multiple levels of precautions Chesapeake takes to make sure the wells stay structurally sound as they pass through the water aquifers.

Taking questions later in his presentation, Strawser was asked by council member Anderson about minimum requirements on royalties before they are sent out.  He was told that an account had to build up $50 in royalties before Chesapeake sends out a check.

“You’re not gonna get rich off of this, you’re not gonna retire and you’re not gonna buy a new car with it,” Strawser said, stressing the fact that for most people the royalty check is just a bit of extra money and not a massive monthly payday.

Another question from Anderson was in regard to if Chesapeake drills underneath the properties of people who don’t sign a lease with them.  He stated that often times they move the drill bore in those situations, or comply with a regulation that keeps them from producing natural gas from within a set number of feet of the property.

“We don’t pressure people, if you own it, you decide what you want to do with it,” Strawser said.

He closed his time by speaking about the partnership between Chesapeake and the City.

“At the end of the day you’re our partners,” Strawser said.  “As long as we do it safely and responsibly I think it’s been a pretty good partnership over these years.”

The six drilling permits mentioned by Strawser are currently being reviewed by city staff and should be up for council approval in the coming months.  Chesapeake leaseholders who haven’t received royalty checks were encouraged to reach out to Chesapeake to learn more about their status.


Soda Springs owner speaks about signage

Scott Lewis of Soda Springs Bar-B-Q addressed the council during the public comments section of the meeting.  Lewis has recently fallen ill, and spoke briefly about his daily radiation treatments as he began his remarks.  He also touched upon the history his family has with the City, doing business here for over sixty years.

“I’m pretty proud of this city; it’s been the livelihood of my family,” Lewis said.

He spoke to the council about his attempts and struggles over the years to put up and keep up signage for his restaurant.  Lewis spoke about the opening of Veterans Park in 1998, saying since its opening he’s been trying to get signage placed there.

“That’s about sixteen years I’ve been trying and begging,” Lewis said.

Lewis spoke about the impact signage at the exit to the park could have on his restaurant, speaking about the money he’s lost over the years as softball teams and other park goers head into Westpoint to eat with no knowledge that his Bar-B-Q restaurant is just a few blocks the other direction.

“The visitors to these parks, I believe, need to trade within our city,” Lewis said.

After running down several times he’s had signage denied by past city administrations, Lewis outlined ideas for some new signs.  One he proposed as a partnership with Tilden Automotive.  Lewis stated that Tilden has agreed to allow him to spruce up their existing sign and also add to it with a Soda Springs sign letting people at that intersection know his restaurant is nearby.  He indicated the sign would be like new and wouldn’t be any higher than the Quik Sak sign across the street.

Lewis also mentioned a possibility of signage being added at the exit to Veterans Park, saying he’d love to rent a spot on any such signage.

“I’m not asking for any favors, this is business,” Lewis said.

Sharing some more about his family and situation, Lewis said it’s gotten harder in recent years to turn a profit at the restaurant.  He also spoke about his daughter, who works at the restaurant during the day and goes to college at night, sharing his hopes to leave the business to her.

“I’m asking my city to help me out,” Lewis said.  “I want Soda Springs to be a part of this city.”

As this was a public comment, council could take no action on the matter.  Council member Arnold did speak about Lewis and the many things he’s done to help people in White Settlement.

“Anybody in this city that’s ever needed help for anything, Scott and Brenda Lewis have been there for them.  And before them, their daddy was,” Arnold said.  “We love you Scott, and we’re going to do everything we can to get what you need.”

Council waves fees for Hope for Hunter benefit

Brandie Gage addressed the council, seeking their help as she sets up an event to raise money for her son, Hunter Gage.  Hunter, whose father and uncle have served as White Settlement Fire Fighters, was born in October of last year with serious small intestine issues.  The Gage family is raising money to go out of state for a liver and intestine transplant for Hunter, and will be holding a carnival at the WSFD fire house on May 3 to raise money.  Gage asked council to waive the $500 permit fee for the event so her family could continue to focus on using money to fund their trip and the year long stay out of state they’ll have to endure while doctors make sure the transplants are a success.  Not only did council agree to waive the $500 fee, they also waived the requirement for the insurance bond.

“Our heart goes out to you,” Mayor Jerry Burns said.