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Mars Area residents plead with board: Don't OK drilling

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By Bill Vidonic
Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 11:33 p.m.
 

Mars Area School District residents on Tuesday urged school board members to reject Rex Energy's proposal to conduct horizontal drilling for oil and gas underneath district property along Route 228.

About 60 residents attended a school board meeting in which Rex representatives outlined their proposal: The company would pay just over $1 million in a five-year lease for the right to drill under the property and share 15 percent of the royalties from any oil or gas extracted.

“If there are any risks whatsoever, the school district shouldn't be doing this,” said Amy Nassif of Adams, who has two children in the district.

Duane Maust, manager of land for Rex Energy, said the company would drill horizontally from property in Middlesex off Denny Road — about 4,000 feet from the district's property, which encompasses about 175 acres.

Maust said the State College-based company would not conduct any drilling on school property, Instead, it would drill about a mile down and then horizontally to the district property. He said the company is negotiating a separate lease with the Mars Home for Youth for underground drilling rights.

The grassroots group Protect Our Children — which is partnering with members of Marcellus Outreach Butler and Marcellus Outreach Middlesex — cited the Feb. 11 explosion of a natural gas well site in Dunkard in Greene County. The group called for Mars Area directors to reject the proposal.

The explosion killed one gas worker, and it took crews until Feb. 25 to cap the second well at the site and stop leaking gas.

The group said it has concerns about environmental pollution and the effects it could have on young children. It called for a ban on drilling within a mile from school buildings.

Advocates have said that natural gas drilling, when done properly, does not harm or pollute the environment.

In 2009, Rex Energy offered Mars Area a five-year lease to drill, but the district did not enter into any agreement.

The state passed new rules for how close drill sites can be to buildings as part of its overhaul of oil and gas laws in 2012. Unconventional gas wells must be at least 500 feet away from a building or water well, the law says.

It does grant exceptions though. Owners may give written consent for drillers to work closer, and the well operator may obtain a variance to work closer if the setback would block a subsurface owner from accessing the oil and gas. Conversely, municipal governments have some power to make more restrictive setbacks.

The school board could vote on Rex Energy's proposal as soon as March 11.

Bill Vidonic is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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