ADAMS TWP — The Mars School Board on Tuesday night heard the parents group that opposes five Marcellus Shale gas wells proposed for a farm near the district campus express their disappointment at a meeting they attended that morning with the driller and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The parents group, along with others who oppose the six wells planned for the Geyer farm on Denny Road, requested the meeting with Rex Energy and the DEP to share information they have gathered on what they say are the potential health risks and adverse effects on the district's 3,200 students.
The meeting took place at the DEP's Northwest Region office in Meadville.
Amy Nassif, a leader of the parents group, told the board the Rex officials said they cannot move the Geyer wells, and they will continue to pursue properties outside of the Geyer site.
She said the Rex representatives stated they do not feel they are putting the Mars students at risk.
“The Mars parent group affirms that the proposed Geyer site is within known evacuation zones and poses significant additional harmful health effects,” Nassif told the board. “It does not belong this close to the schools.”
Nassif implored the board to also request a meeting with Rex Energy and the DEP to mitigate risk to the schools. She said if such a meeting is requested, the parents should also be invited to attend.
“The group and supporters are not tired, and we are committed to protecting our children,” Nassif said. “The only way to truly mitigate risk is to not drill wells near our children.”
Crystal Yost, a parent who also attended the Meadville meeting, said she is disappointed with the school board's lack of participation in the discussion regarding the safety of the wells so near the schools.
“Our kids are in your care,” she said.
But Superintendent Jim Budzilek said he has been in contact with Rex Energy and county emergency officials regarding the situation.
He said the school board has continued to study safety issues and evacuation procedures, among other facets of drilling near the schools.
“We are doing our homework with this whole process,” Budzilek said.
But Middlesex Township resident Janice Kennedy said many schools are operating much closer to active wells than Mars will be if the DEP grants the Geyer well permits.
Kennedy also said the Middlesex and Adams township supervisors have responded correctly by rejecting the parents group's request for a two-mile, nonindustrial overlay zone around the schools to prevent horizontal drilling.
Kennedy said the Geyer wells do not pose a threat to Mars students.
“The DEP continues to monitor well activity during drilling and afterward,” Kennedy said.
Rex Energy's senior director of civil and environmental engineering, Mike Endler, said in a statement that the meeting with the parents group is an example of Rex's commitment to foster a constructive dialogue with the communities where the company operates.
Endler said if the DEP approves the Geyer well permits, Rex officials will work with local first responders to ensure that they have the necessary training to take action “in the rare chance of a well site event.”
Regular, ongoing communication with the school district would also be a focus in each step of the wells' development process, Endler said.
He said as a result of the Meadville meeting, Rex agreed to:
• Work with the school district to schedule the fracking process during nonschool hours
• Use US Environmental Protection Agency-approved green completion technologies at the well site to reduce air emissions
• Use sound abatement walls at the well site
• Evaluate the possible use of additional air monitoring equipment at the well site.
• Not flare natural gas at the location
• Enhance community outreach and communications
It is not known when the DEP officials will announce their decision on the Geyer well permits.