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Mars Area Parents Mobilizing Against Drilling Under School District Property

MARS (KDKA) -- The rural landscape of western Pennsylvania is peppered with natural gas well rigs. But the rewards and risks of the industry are now being weighed heavily in Mars, Butler County.

Next week, the Mars Area School Board is likely to vote on a proposal from Rex Energy, which is based in State College.

The company is offering $1 million up front for a five-year lease to drill under district property. The district would also gain a percentage of royalties from the gas and oil extracted.

Calling their group, "Protect Our Children," many mobilizing against Rex Energy's plan met Friday afternoon to pool resources.

"There are too many risks, there are too many unknowns with this industry, and we don't want it to be underneath the school district property," said Amy Nassif, who is against drilling under the schools.

The specter of last month's gas well explosion in Dunkard Township, Greene County, which killed one worker, only heightened fears.

"Greene County scared me a little bit, if that happened here in Mars. This well that they are proposing, the permit, they're trying to go for the permit a half-a-mile from our school district. It is 2,000-feet from my house, also," said Jennifer Mallin, who is also against the drilling.

Rex Energy wants to begin drilling in June or July vertically on the farmland on Denny Road in Middlesex Township. They already lease the land.

But then, they want to drill horizontally underneath school district property.

Signatures are being collected on a petition asking the school board to vote "no" at next Tuesday night's meeting.

Charles Clark, with his son Atticus, thinks that legislation is the only solution.

"Well, the rallying cry to me is no drilling two-miles from a school," said Clark. "We need to have a very simple message. It has to be very succinct."

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