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250 turn out for Middlesex hearing on challenge to ordinance allowing Rex Energy fracking

| Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015, 11:54 p.m.

Hydraulic fracturing is saving farmland and preserving the rural character of Middlesex, proponents said during a public hearing Tuesday in Butler County on a challenge to a zoning ordinance that allows fracking.

“There are family farms that were sold off because income levels weren't enough,” said Scott Fodi, former manager of Middlesex who helped the township adopt the ordinance in August.

The hearing, attended by about 250 people, was the first where driller Rex Energy presented its witnesses.

Fodi cited three farms in the township that were sold and became residential developments. Without fracking, much more of the Butler County community would be developed, Fodi said.

“There would have been thousands of acres open to high-density development,” he said.

Jordan Yeager, a lawyer for opponents of the ordinance, took issue with the township's logic.

“If they don't want housing developments, they can zone it that way,” Yeager said. “It has nothing to do with fracking.”

Two environmental groups and four Middlesex residents had opposed to fracking called witnesses who challenged the zoning ordinance.

The ordinance would allow drilling in 90 percent of Middlesex, including on property owned by Kim and Bob Geyer, near the district's land. Drilling there is on hold because of the challenge.

Opponents have said the Geyers' property is too close to Mars Area School District property, about three-quarters of a mile away.

More than half of Pennsylvania's counties are home to natural gas drilling. Butler County has 277 wells, the seventh-highest county concentration in the state, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

An appeal of Middlesex's drilling ordinance could last years and help define the extent to which municipalities are allowed to oversee and regulate fracking, supporters and opponents of the ordinance say.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

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