Gas well discussion spurs shouting match
April 21, 2014
MIDDLESEX TWP — Tempers flared on Wednesday night on both sides of the controversy regarding the placement of six Marcellus Shale gas wells near five Mars schools and a residential development. More than 150 people poured into the supervisors meeting, where about 75 percent cheered those who oppose the Bob and Kim Geyer wells on Denny Road. About 25 percent of those in attendance cheered those who told supervisors that taxpayers should be permitted to do what they want with their properties. At times the meeting became heated, with one group outshouting speakers from the other group. Supervisors Chairman Mike Spreng made it clear before the public comment period that only taxpayers in the township would be allowed to speak. That rankled the group that opposes the wells due to safety concerns, because it precluded a presentation by attorney Jordan Yeager. Yeager is a Philadelphia attorney who was instrumental in the state Supreme Court’s overturning of the local zoning portion of Act 13, the state’s gas act. The group that opposes the Geyer wells brought Yeager to the meeting to convince the supervisors that they have the power to prohibit the wells because they would be an industrial use in a residential-agricultural zone. Those opposing the wells shouted that the attorneys there who planned to discuss a new phase of the Weatherburn Heights plan should also be prohibited from speaking if they were not topwnship residents. Township solicitor Mike Hnath told the group that he and the supervisors have received information from Yeager and understand his position. But many remained angry that he was not allowed to speak. Yeager himself implored the board to give him five minutes to share his zoning information, but was denied. Spreng also made it clear at the beginning of the meeting that he opposes any changes to the township zoning ordinance or a zoning overlay around the schools. The group that brought Yeager to the meeting is trying to have a 2-mile overlay placed around the schools where unconventional gas drilling would be prohibited. Spreng said if the state Department of Environmental Protection experts thought school children could be endangered or sickened by nearby drilling, they would have prohibited it themselves. Spreng had to bang the gavel several times to tame the shouts of “No!” precipitated by his comment. Resident Jason Yost read the uses permitted in the township’s residential-agricultural zones after Hnath said he feels unconventional gas wells are an accessory to farming. The accessory uses read by Yost included riding academies, veterinarians, and helipads for private use. “I think I’m missing something,” Yost said. “Tell me how you read in that zoning how you put an industrial facility in these people’s backyards and so close to the schools?” Supervisors Vice Chairman Don Marshall said Marcellus Shale gas drilling is not a long-term industrial use. Three people told the supervisors they have young children, and they feel safe sending their students to the Mars schools after having studied unconventional gas drilling. John McManus told the supervisors that other potential dangers exist around the schools that are never mentioned. “Just 1.1 miles west of our primary center is a rail line and petroleum storage facility,” McManus said. He said he appreciated the concerns of the group opposing the Geyer wells, but said the students would be safe. “Sometimes fears do get blown out of proportion,” he said. The group opposing the wells again told the supervisors that there are detrimental effects to children from unconventional gas drilling. The supervisors took no action on the matter. Rex Energy submitted the permit application to the DEP in Meadville on April 11. It is not known how long it will take for the department to issue or deny the permit.