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DEP approves controversial Middlesex gas drilling permit

| Friday, Sept. 12, 2014, 5:40 p.m.
Colleen Tully of Adams on March 11 held a poster of her daughter Ally, a first-grader last year in the Mars Area School District, to protest Rex Energy's proposal to drill under Mars Area School District property. She was joined by older daughter, Jacquelyn Tully, a senior at Penn State.
Bill Vidonic | Tribune-Review
Colleen Tully of Adams on March 11 held a poster of her daughter Ally, a first-grader last year in the Mars Area School District, to protest Rex Energy's proposal to drill under Mars Area School District property. She was joined by older daughter, Jacquelyn Tully, a senior at Penn State.

The state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday granted approval for Rex Energy to conduct Marcellus shale drilling for natural gas on a controversial site in Middlesex less than a mile from Mars Area School District property.

“We have to get together with other groups and discuss our strategy from here,” said Amy Nassif, a member of the Mars Parents Group that has been fighting against the drilling site, on property off Denny Road owned by Bob and Kim Geyer, who live in Adams. “We have to protect our children because the DEP is not interested in protecting our local community.”

Kim Geyer said, “We are extremely pleased because we know that Rex Energy was following the law and operating with the highest degree of integrity and trying to keep this a safe and responsible process.

“I know they're going to do everything in their capacity to keep everything safe.”

Rex Energy expects to begin site development in a couple of weeks, company spokesman Patrick Creighton said.

The Mars parents group opposed the gas well site, saying they want drilling banned within two miles of school property. Leaders in Adams and Middlesex have refused to institute that ban.

The DEP requires a 500-foot setback from schools for a well site. Middlesex supervisors last month revamped their zoning codes to allow Marcellus shale drilling in most areas of the township, including the Geyer property.

The proposed well site would be just under seven-tenths of a mile from the proposed wellhead to the closest school property line, Rex Energy said.

A sudden evacuation of the school district could overwhelm local roads and emergency responders, Nassif said.

“That's our premise: It needs to stay away from schools,” she said.

A letter dated on Friday from S. Craig Lobins, the DEP's northwest district oil and gas manager, to Nassif, said that the drilling application falls within guidelines set up by law.

The group has argued that students could be exposed to dangerous emissions, including methane gas, although the DEP said in the letter that air studies in 2010 “didn't identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air emission related health issues associated with Marcellus shale drilling activities.”

“As a result, the Department does not have a basis to deny the (Rex Energy) Gas permit applications at issue,” Lobins wrote.

According to the letter, Rex has committed to installing noise-dampening walls at the site; working with the school district to conduct hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, during non-school hours; reducing emissions during fracking; and working with local emergency responders.

“From the start of the permitting process and as the process progressed, Rex Energy confirmed that we will communicate with local stakeholders, consider site-specific enhancements and keep the Mars Area School District and local first responders informed of our well development plans for our Geyer Farm well pad,” Creighton said.

“I'm happy for private property owners, and I'm happy for people that want to develop their property with well development,” Geyer said. “And I hope that people don't have to experience what we've experienced in the last eight months.”

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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