Mars Area school board says no to natural gas drilling

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It was over before it started.

Before the meeting, about 40 people stood outside  Mars Area Primary Center with signs in fluorescent colors urging school board members to “Vote No,” “Don’t drill under kids,” and “Don’t be sellouts.”

Inside, about 175 taxpayers and parents packed the tiny cafeteria, armed with prepared speeches, facts and figures. They were ready to take on Mars Area school board, which was to vote Tuesday night on a lease offer that would have allowed for horizontal gas drilling under district property along Route 228.

But before the first speaker took to the microphone, the board president had a message for everyone: The board would vote against the lease.

The crowd erupted in loud applause that bounced off walls decorated with a hand-painted picnic scene, and gave the board a standing ovation.

It held true to its promise, unanimously voting down a five-year lease offer from Rex Energy that would have brought the district more than $1 million — a bonus of $690,000 and an advance royalty payment of $331,396.

“While disappointed, we respect the school board’s decision,” said Rex spokesman Mike Endler. “We will maintain open communication with the district, and other community stakeholders, as Rex Energy moves forward with safe, tightly regulated development plans for this project.”

Rex Energy previously told the board it will apply for a permit to drill as many as six wells on property owned by Kim Geyer, former president of the school board, along Denny Road in Adams.

The location is less than a mile from the Mars Area campus.

Board member John Kennedy reminded the community that even though the board voted to keep drilling from under district property, “The risk will still be there. We do not get around that. ... We can’t help what our neighbors are doing.”

Community members presented the board with more than 900 signatures collected in four days, asking the board to reject Rex’s proposal.

“It’s not just today, but it’s forever,” said Amy Nassif of Mars, who created the petition. “The community has spoken that we do not want this kind of industry near our children.”

Lexi Belculfine: or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc.

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