The fight over placing a nonconventional gas well about a half-mile from five Mars Area School District schools has moved out of the district’s boardroom and into the boardrooms of a pair of local townships.
Several parents and the group Protect our Children were successful earlier this year in convincing the Mars Area School Board that it should not approve a contract with Rex Energy to drill under the district’s 300 acres. However, the company still has leases with other property owners in the area, and it continues to move forward with plans to use the same well pad on a parcel known by locals as the Geyer Farm.
“This is a highly volatile industrial process and toxic process and it does not belong near children,” said Protect Our Children organizer Diane Sipe.
Protect Our Children and the concerned parents fighting the well now are hoping to get what is know as an “institutional overlay,” which would prohibit drilling within two miles of any school in two neighboring townships--Adams and Middlesex.
Amy Nassif went before the Adams Township Board of Supervisors Monday night with the proposal. She said the idea of creating a buffer zone and the data she presented to support the health and safety benefits of the buffer were well received, but she was concerned that the members did not take action.
Nassif and others will go before the Middlesex Board of Supervisors Wednesday night with the same requests plus an argument that the placement of the well pad is in violation of zoning laws.
“It is zoned ‘residential, agricultural’ and [the law] is very specific, they have a plethora and a whole entire list of what is permitted in this area and unconventional drilling is not permitted,” said Nassif who is the mother of a kindergartner and a fifth grader in the Mars Area School District.
Nassif said she is not completely against fracking, but she believes it has to be done in the right place. She also thinks her proposal would not negatively impact a landowner’s rights.
“If you place that [well] pad two miles away from the school and your property is adjacent to the school district, according to Rex Energy, they can drill horizontally underneath up to two miles. So you can still obtain and have a successful lease with Rex Energy,” Nasiff said.
The zoning law would not only impact the two miles around the Mars Area schools, it would also ban wells near Holy Sepulcher School, which is the only school in Middlesex Township. Holy Sepulcher School, with its 160 students, is about four overland miles from the Geyer Farm site but much closer to other wells that are already in operation.
Nassif said she is pursuing the idea of state legislation mandating a two-mile buffer around all schools. She has had conversations with local House and Senate members but has not yet been successful in encouraging them to draft legislation.
Neither Holy Sepulcher School nor Rex Energy would comment for this story.