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Physician, Scientists, Engineer Group Urge Caution of Natural Gas Development Near Schools

A letter from the group Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) outlines concerns over natural gas development near schools.

The letter, sent to the Department of Environmental Protection, states that “there is a growing body of peer-reviewed science that provides significant evidence of public health risks” to fracking.

The Mars Parent Group, a grassroots organization opposed to drilling under school property, is highlighting the letter, which they say backs up their request for a two-mile buffer zone around the schools.

“Just stay away from the school district,” said Amy Nassif, a member of the parents’ group, who met with developer Rex Energy. “I mean we have all this research and reports about incidents and accidents support at least two miles. Can you stay at least two miles away and then you could drill underneath whoever would want their property drilled? And they said, ‘no.’”

Earlier this year, Rex Energy proposed drilling under the Mars Area School District’s five-school campus, but that proposal was rejected by the school board. Still, the company has moved forward with a proposal to develop six gas wells within .52 miles of the school campus.

Rex Energy 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 as the Geyer Farm. Nassif said the company told the parent’s group it already has millions invested in the site, and therefore won’t move it.

Nassif said there is concern about safety; she pointed to the Greene County well pad fire last year – which had an impact beyond the well pad site.

“It is required up to two mile evacuation zone, and we just felt that in light of those circumstances, why would you put a school districts with 3,200 children within an evacuation zone of a possible incident at a well site,” said Nassif.

In addition, the group is concerned about health impacts of nearby development, including emissions from trucks and other equipment above ground. Nassif said parents remain frustrated as local and state officials have seemingly ignored their concerns and the research they’ve presented to support their views. Currently – all comment related to the Rex Energy proposal are being reviewed by the DEP

“The permits are pending, that’s what we’re told,” she said. “No decision has been made whether to reject or accept them.”

Local officials with Middlesex Township have approved new zoning rules which will allow for the development. Rex Energy did not return a call for comment.