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Hearings continue to clarify zoning for Middlesex fracking

| Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015, 5:54 p.m.

Zoning regulations that permit fracking in 90 percent of Middlesex are based on a sample ordinance provided to the township by a drilling company, township and company officials say.

Middlesex and Rex Energy officials say the ordinance clarified zoning rules and requirements after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down parts of Act 13, a state law that prohibited municipalities from enacting a ban or restricting hydraulic fracturing. The state's highest court ruled that Act 13 removed control from local government.

“In every area where Rex operates, it's critical that we have a firm understanding of the rules so that we remain compliant with all applicable regulations and requirements,” said Patrick Creighton, a Rex spokesman.

Opponents say that Rex Energy's help in presenting the draft ordinance benefited the company.

“The letter from Rex shows intent, in my eyes. And it goes to the lack of thought in Middlesex Township,” said Amy Nassif, a member of the Mars Parents Group that opposes the drilling site on property off Denny Road owned by Bob and Kim Geyer.

The parents group and other opponents are challenging the zoning ordinance, which has prompted a series of public hearings. The hearings continue at 4:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department.

Middlesex supervisors in August adopted the zoning ordinance, which was modeled on an ordinance adopted by Nottingham in Washington County that was furnished by State College-based Rex Energy, township and company officials said.

Rex has three operating wells in Middlesex and is mounting a defense to the challenge against the township's ordinance.

In a June letter to then-township manager Scot Fodi, Rex General Counsel Jennifer McDonough said the company was “seeking greater clarity in the zoning of unconventional natural gas wells in Middlesex.”

“Rex Energy supports the permissive zoning that Act 13 intended to create,” the letter stated. “Therefore, Rex Energy supports similar permissive zoning and unconventional natural gas wells within Middlesex.”

Fodi told the Tribune-Review that the company simply wanted clear zoning rules as a result of the Supreme Court decision.

“It is a letter asking the board to do something. Rex wanted more certainty and clarity for its approvals,” he said.

Jordan Yeager, a lawyer representing people challenging the Middlesex ordinance, said the letter contradicts the “claim that the township was doing the public interest.”

Middlesex supervisors adopted the ordinance in August. The township's zoning commission had not voted on whether to recommend it for approval, saying it wanted more time to consider the measure.

Having lobbyists draft legislation for lawmakers to consider “happens all the time” in Harrisburg and to a lesser extent in municipalities, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a government watchdog group. Such a practice is not illegal, he said.

There are four lobbyists for every legislator, putting “a lot of pressure on public officials,” he said.

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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