A group of residents wants members of the Mars Area school board to join their fight against a gas well proposed for less than a mile from the schools.
Several residents told board members Tuesday that their duty to the students did not end last month with the unanimous rejection of a lease that would have allowed Rex Energy to drill under district property.
“The issue is far from over. There is a large group of very dedicated individuals doing everything they can to prevent this from being beside our school,” said Jackie Smathers. “If we had the school board behind us, supporting us, that would be very powerful.”
Rex has applied to put a gas well on property belonging to Kim Geyer, a former school board member. The well will be 0.52 miles from the Mars Area campus.
Mrs. Smathers asked if the district had contingency plans for any problems caused by the well and fracking. “How do you plan to get 3,200 kids out of five buildings simultaneously?”
Charles Clark said there have been accidents and evacuations with gas wells, and the evacuation zone is usually one mile from the accident.
“I look at the schools as a place you evacuate to. You never look at schools as a place you evacuate from,” he said.
Mr. Clark said several of the speakers, including himself, are in favor of fracking, “but we strongly believe there are places for this industrial activity. Near our schools is not one of them.”
Patrice Tomcik, a former geneticist, presented board members with several pages of information about the chemicals used in drilling and fracking, and the health effects potentially caused by those chemicals.
“Children are more vulnerable to environmental (hazards) than adults. Their kidneys and their livers aren't strong enough to get rid of them,” Mrs. Tomcik said. “There are long-term health effects that do not show up immediately.”
Mrs. Tomcik’s handout said exposure to hazardous air pollutants can cause short-term illness, cancer, organ damage, nervous system disorders and birth defects. Also, she noted, noise pollution can disrupt children’s learning.
Crystal Yost said they live 1,000 feet from a neighbor’s gas well. With the 24/7 operation of the well, her daughter had to move her bedroom to the other side of the house to escape the noise, she said.
But John McManus said he lives 1,500 feet from a neighbor’s gas well. “I’m more disturbed by the mooing of his cows than I have been from the gas well,” he said. “Right now, we see so much panic.”
School board President J. Dayle Ferguson said while individual board members are welcome to continue the discussion, the district’s role in the matter ended with last month’s vote.
They are, however, re-evaluating safety and evacuation plans.
“When I said the issue was closed, that does not mean that safety has gone away,” she said. “We are listening. We are learning — because it is part of our reality in this county, whether we want it to be or not.”
Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.