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Middlesex natural gas drilling hearings under way

| Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, 12:20 a.m.
Roughly 150 people attended a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, of the Middlesex Zoning Hearing board to hear a challenge to the zoning of a Marcellus Shale gas well on property in Middlesex.
Bill Vidonic | Trib Total Media
Roughly 150 people attended a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, of the Middlesex Zoning Hearing board to hear a challenge to the zoning of a Marcellus Shale gas well on property in Middlesex.

The zoning hearing board in Middlesex, Butler County, began hearing evidence Tuesday in appeals to changes that allow natural gas drilling in most of the township.

More than 150 people crowded into the township fire hall as attorney Jordan Yeager, representing two environmental groups and four residents, said that zoning cannot favor one or several property owners over the entire community.

“For zoning to be lawful, for zoning to be constitutional, it has to reflect a balance of community interests,” Yeager said.

The board is being asked to determine whether the township's zoning changes protect health and safety. The board will hear a challenge to a permit that allows Rex Energy to drill on Middlesex property owned by Kim and Bob Geyer, who live in adjacent Adams. Opponents have said the site is too close to Mars Area School District property, about three-quarters of a mile away.

Rex Energy has put drilling operations on hold at the Geyer well and at adjacent wells as the appeal process continues.

Township Solicitor Michael Hnath said that the zoning changes were proper.

“When you look at the ordinance as a whole, it is in fact an orderly way of laying out where these (drilling) activities can and cannot occur in the township,” Hnath said.

The next hearing is expected in late December, zoning hearing board Chairman George Born said. The board could hold up to five hearings, depending on how much evidence is presented.

Either side has can appeal the board's decision to Common Pleas Court, said zoning board Solicitor Michael Gallagher.

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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