After a four-hour public hearing on Tuesday, a township zoning board in western Pennsylvania delayed making a decision about a contentious ordinance passed by supervisors earlier this year that allowed Rex Energy Corp. to develop five Marcellus Shale wells near a school in the area.
The hearing in Middlesex Township in Butler County about 25 miles north of Pittsburgh attracted more than 150 residents.
Given all the evidence that needed to presented and the public's interest, the board decided that it couldn't make a decision about reversing or upholding the ordinance. It decided to continue the hearing Dec. 29 and said up to five hearings could eventually be held.
Rex had already started development at the site, which is about two-thirds of a mile from the Mars Area School District property, where there are more than 3,200 students in grades K-12l. Earlier this month, the company was forced to suspend operations when four area residents and the Clean Air Council and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network -- both headquartered on the other side of the state -- filed a challenge against the zoning board for modifying an ordinance that allows oil and gas companies to drill in residential-agricultural zones (see Shale Daily, Nov. 12).
The group contended that the modification facilitated Rex's plans to drill near the school, and it asked the zoning board to balance the community's health and safety interests by reversing it. If the ordinance is upheld, Rex can continue its operations, but if it's invalidated, the company has said development would be "postponed indefinitely."
Rex Vice President Mike Endler said after the hearing the company is committed to conducting its work safely and welcomes "the opportunity to represent the interests of Rex leaseholders by taking part in these hearings."
Rex’s plans began facing opposition after a parent group was formed earlier this year to raise public awareness about the operations (see Shale Daily, Oct. 13; Sept. 18).
A recent decision in northeast Pennsylvania found a common pleas court judge throwing out a conditional-use permit similar to the one issued in Middlesex (see Shale Daily, Sept. 4). The judge in that case cited last year's Act 13 ruling, which gave municipalities the right to enforce or change local zoning laws and recognized citizens environmental rights (see Shale Daily, Dec. 20, 2013). The judge said local interests had been overlooked, and the ruling forced an oil and gas company to suspend its operations.