Move the Wheatley kernel? Much riding on what more drilling reveals

Downtown Wheatley remained quiet the day after firefighters and city officials told local residents that drilling work should begin on Wednesday.

They warned people living near the evacuation zone where a major explosion took place last August that they might see and hear things that are unfamiliar to them but perfectly normal for an oil drilling operation and gas.

“They’ve been moving the equipment since last week,” Chatham-Kent Public Works Manager Ryan Brown said. “Their actual start time to start operations with the drilling is a bit TBD, but that’s this week.”

Brown says contractors have been doing safety checks since last week, saying it’s not every day that a drilling operation drills an oil and gas well in a downtown area.

Downtown Wheatley, Ont. Wednesday, March 30, 2022. (Chris Campbell/CTV Windsor)

“You can sometimes see people wearing air respirators much like a firefighter, because according to their safety precautions, working around dangerous gases, it is sometimes part of their safe work procedure. Also, because the equipment is quite noisy, they use their buzzers a lot on the drill itself to communicate with different people on site,” he says.

Brown warns residents not to be alarmed, suggesting large equipment, including a flare, could be noisy, encouraging anyone with questions to call 311.

Brown anticipates the job will take a few weeks, but admits it’s hard to predict.

“This is a very big step in the overall investigation into what happened and hopefully leading to a resolution of the issue and then an end to the emergency.” Brown adds. “Because it’s not a standard set of operations where you drill a new well, we can find something and it turns out to take longer or it can go well and it takes less time.”

In the meantime, Wheatley BIA treasurer and local disaster relief team member Kimberley Grant told CTV News business officials they are looking forward to the upcoming return of the Wheatley Fish Festival, but believes the planning for other city events depends on what’s being done more and more downtown.

“They formed a committee for the reconstruction of the city,” explains Grant. “This committee will meet Chatham-Kent about the future of Wheatley and what is happening, where are we building the town? Can we be in the same neighborhood? Should we move it to another area? »

According to Grant, a new committee has been exploring some preliminary options that involve moving downtown from its current location.

Downtown Wheatley, Ont. Wednesday, March 30, 2022. (Chris Campbell/CTV Windsor)

“I know they were looking at three other areas, but all of them need infrastructure from scratch,” adds Grant. “We were told that based on these wells, nothing can be built within 100 feet of the well. So it’s a lot in this corner, obviously.

Displaced residents like Steve Ingram, whose home is inside the evacuation zone, say they are still living hand-to-mouth in the hope of being told they can return.

“You watch different situations on television, obviously much worse than that in different countries and you see people devastated by becoming refugees and that’s how I feel, you know, those poor people and the people of Wheatley. We’re become refugees right now. We are just not allowed in our own homes,” he says.

Ingram clings to the hope that further drilling will be the beginning of the end of the current ordeal.

“We cross our fingers every day we wake up and hope we get the phone call or notification from Chatham-Kent to say ‘today is the day’ or ‘next week you’re going to walk through your door’, then we can start planning to put our lives back together. »

‘Wheatley Strong’ sign in downtown Wheatley, Ontario. Wednesday, March 30, 2022. (Chris Campbell/CTV Windsor)

Susan Fulmer of the Wheatley Area Food Bank says she’s okay with the slow approach, not wanting another temporary fix.

“I think progress is slow, but at the same time, it’s good that it’s going slowly,” she says.

Fulmer explains that donations are still being accepted at the food bank’s temporary location on Talbot Road. Fulmer thinks that when more information becomes known and a more permanent solution is determined, people will feel more comfortable being at Wheatley.

“There are so many unknowns and a lot of questions and not so many answers and so we’re a pretty strong and resilient community,” she says. “We support each other. We cling there.

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