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Middlesex supervisors permit drilling in most of township

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 6:06 p.m.
Bill Vidonic
Middlesex resident Kim Geyer speaks Wednesday in support of Marcellus shale drilling in the township. Supervisors later amended the township’s zoning ordinances to allow oil and gas drilling in agricultural and rural residential areas.

Some residents on Wednesday urged Middlesex supervisors to hold off on amending its zoning ordinance, to think more about the ramifications of oil and gas drilling.

Others said that drilling isn't dangerous to the environment, and revenue from the drilling rights could help struggling farmers keep their land.

“Don't let (drillers) tell you where they want to drill and make money, and make ... residents mad,” Darrin Smith urged the supervisors.

But after more than an hour of listening, supervisors Michael Spreng, Donald P. Marshall and James Evans quickly decided to allow oil and gas drilling in the vast majority of the township, in rural residential, agricultural and residential agricultural areas. The ordinance also will allow drilling conditionally in several other areas, including highway commercial and regional commercial.

The ordinance prohibits a natural gas processing plant from being built in most of the township, except for regional commercial and restricted industrial areas. It allows conditional use of a natural gas compressor station in rural residential and agricultural areas.

Drilling has become a contentious issue in southern Butler County. A group of Mars Area School District parents, including Middlesex residents, have been fighting a proposed well pad along Denny Road on property owned by Bob and Kim Geyer. The group has been pushing officials to ban drilling within two miles of school district property, but the supervisors' vote puts the well pad in an allowed area.

DEP permits for the well were still pending as of Thursday.

Many spectators chuckled when Middlesex solicitor Michael Hnath explained that under state ethics guidelines, two votes would be taken. Spreng and Evans first abstained because of their financial interests in drilling, including having lease agreements.

The state's Ethics Act, however, then allowed them to vote because otherwise there wasn't a majority for the three-member board. All three supervisors ultimately voted to approve the changes without comment.

Middlesex already has three well sites, township manager Scot Fodi said. Nearly 80 percent of township land has drilling leases attached to it, he said.

For a view of the township's zoning map, visit www.middlesextownship.org.

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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