Will PA Landowners Pay Higher Property Taxes When Drilling Begins? Maybe

Landowners in Pennsylvania have gotten property tax relief in recent years from a PA law known as “Clean and Green.” If landowners keep their property use as agricultural, open space or forest-land, they are taxed at a lower rate (for those uses) rather than the higher fair market value the land might bring for other uses. But there’s a catch—if a landowner starts using the land for another non-agricultural use, they not only start paying higher taxes on it now, they also have to pay the difference in the tax rate between Clean and Green and fair market value going back up to seven years—as a penalty.

The intent of the program, which is administered through county government, is to encourage property owners to retain their land in agricultural, open-space or forest-land use by providing real estate tax relief.

Property owners benefit through lower taxes as long as their land isn’t used for housing developments or other uses inconsistent with agricultural production, open-space or forest-land use.

If a property owner decided to use the land for a purpose inconsistent with the program, the landowner would have to pay “rollback taxes” – the difference between fair market value and use value of the land – for as many years as the property had been designated Clean and Green, up to a maximum of seven years.*

So the million dollar question: If landowners allow drilling on their land, is that land disqualified from the Clean and Green lower tax rate? Right now, as things stand, each county will interpret the law the way they see fit. There is a bill that has passed the PA Senate and is now before for the House for consideration that would allow gas drilling on Clean and Green land without penalty.

Landowners who have signed leases where drilling will soon begin (or has already begun) need to monitor this situation. Landowners in PA who have not yet signed a lease would do well to be sure there is a clause requiring the driller to pay the difference in taxes should the bill not get signed into law.

*Wilkes-Barre Times Leader (May 11) – Drilling’s effect on ‘Clean and Green’ land uncertain