Two environmental organizations based near Philadelphia have filed an appeal to a township’s zoning ordinance on the other side of the state, where Rex Energy Corp. has started work to drill five unconventional Marcellus Shale wells close to a large school campus.

The Clean Air Council and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, along with four residents of Middlesex, filed a challenge against the township’s zoning board for modifying an ordinance that allows oil and gas companies to drill in residential-agricultural zones, which they contend facilitated Rex’s plan to drill within two-thirds of a mile of Mars Area School District property, where more than 3,200 students in grades K-12 attend school.

When the school refused to lease land to the company, a parents group was formed to research horizontal hydraulic fracturing and oppose Rex’s wells in a spat that’s been unfolding for months (see Shale Daily, Sept. 18). The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a permit for the site in September and at the time, the parents’ group was considering its next move.

Township officials couldn’t comment about the appeal, but said they hope to schedule a hearing next month to discuss it. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, which was a plaintiff in last year’s landmark case in the state Supreme Court that struck down parts of Act 13 and returned to municipalities their right to change or enforce local zoning laws (see Shale Daily, Dec. 20, 2013), and the Clean Air Council said in their appeal that without a change in the township’s zoning ordinance, Rex would not have been allowed to drill so close to the school.

Rex Spokesman Patrick Creighton previously told NGI’s Shale Daily that the company has been in constant contact with local stakeholders and added that it was taking precautions that exceed local laws, such as building sound abatement walls and using green completion techniques at the Middlesex site.

When the DEP granted Rex’s permit in September, the agency said it could find no reason to withhold it.

Located about 25 miles north of Pittsburgh, Middlesex is in rural Butler County, home to the bulk of Rex’s Marcellus leasehold. The environmental groups are also challenging the zoning change because they claim it will further facilitate drilling operations in most of the township.