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Adams couple faces fight in quest to drill on land near Mars schools

| Saturday, July 26, 2014, 4:24 p.m.
Bill Vidonic | Trib Total Media
Kim Geyer, right, is running for Butler County commissioner.

Kim and Bob Geyer have been in the center of a firestorm as a parents group fights Rex Energy's plans to drill for natural gas on the couple's 150-acre farm.

The Geyers say they have a constitutional right to lease their land — which stretches from their home in Adams into adjacent Middlesex — for a Marcellus shale drilling well pad.

“We've been doing this by the letter of the law through the (Department of Environmental Protection),” said Bob Geyer, 56, who owns a construction business.

He and his late father, Bill, signed a lease with Rex about five years ago. The Geyers declined to discuss the terms.

The DEP could decide within the next few weeks whether to grant Rex permits to drill on the farm at a site in Middlesex, three-quarters of a mile from Mars Area School District property in Adams.

The parents group is fighting to get a 2-mile buffer around the school campus where drilling and industrial development would be prohibited.

“It's about the safety and well-being of our children in our community,” said Amy Nassif, a member of the parents group.

The Geyers aren't buying the group's safety argument.

The couple said there is no scientific data to support the need for a 2-mile prohibition.

Instead, the Geyers said, they believe that opponents are concerned about their property values.

“We've never really even discussed property values,” Nassif said.

The Geyers said they have lived their entire lives in southern Butler County, and their families go back in the area more than three generations. They care about children.

“These people are trying to tell me what to do with my property,” said Bob Geyer said of the opponents.

“It's setting precedence in not just gas-well drilling, but in defending private property rights,” Kim Geyer said. “It's an American, it's a constitutional thing.”

Kim Geyer, 51, secretary for Butler County Commissioner William Pinkerton, serves on XTO Energy's community advisory panel, a role she said educated her about the drilling industry.

She also is a former president of the Mars Area School Board.

Pennsylvania produced more than 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2013, according to the DEP. Counties and local governments receive economic benefits, including millions of dollars in impact fees.

“It's pretty remarkable to think there's a natural resource beneath us, beneath our fields that we're able to access for the benefit of our country,” Kim Geyer said.

If Rex gets permission, work on the site from construction to reclamation would last about two years, with active drilling running about three months, a company spokesman said. The company would restore the property to its original state, the spokesman said.

Kim Geyer said her family believes that DEP rules and regulations governing drilling, including a 500-foot setback from schools, are enough protection.

Nassif said the group is not pointing fingers any one person.

“I don't think that anyone in the group personally knows the Geyers. It's not only about the Geyers, but everybody who wants to develop around the schools,” she said.

The Geyers said they are good neighbors, supporting local civic and charitable organizations financially and with their time. Some people have made some stinging comments about them in public meetings, Kim Geyer said, but “the people who know us in the Mars community know what we're about and what we stand for.”

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

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