In March of this year, newly elected Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett appointed a 30-member Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission with the aim of producing “a comprehensive, strategic proposal for the responsible and environmentally sound development of Marcellus Shale.” The panel wrapped up their work last Friday by voting on a list of recommendations, ultimately approving 96 of them. The final list will be issued in a report which goes to Gov. Corbett on July 22 and is not available at this time.
However, two prominent items from the approved list are being reported by media sources present at the meeting: a new impact fee and forced pooling.
Seeking to help set broad-based policy, the governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission voted Friday to recommend levying a generic local impact fee on deep-well gas drillers, while leaving key details for other branches of state government to wrestle with.
The 30-member commission wrapped up four months of work by offering nearly 100 recommendations on Marcellus-related issues that will be addressed by Gov. Tom Corbett, state agencies and the Legislature in the coming months and years.
The commission steered clear of recommending a specific amount for the impact fee as various pieces of legislation have done and instead focused on uses for fee revenue, including community projects to protect and restore land, wildlife, water resources and outdoor recreation opportunities. Several other general revenue uses endorsed by the commission include housing needs, court costs and emergency response.
One surprise among the recommendations calls for updating a long-standing state law that recognizes industry "pooling" of gas deposits in neighboring parcels as a way to conserve the energy resource. This energy conservation law mainly addressing shallow gas drilling would be revised to cover drilling in the various deep gas formations under this recommendation.
The natural gas industry made a push last fall for proposals to require pooling of land tracts in a neighborhood for drilling even if a property owner objects, but it ran into opposition from many lawmakers and property rights advocates.
Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, the commission chairman, urged members to keep the recommendations general in concept and avoid the minutiae of detail that will surface as lawmakers and regulators take up these issues. Cawley and chairmen of the commission’s four working groups will now shape the recommendations into a final report to be submitted to Corbett by a July 22 deadline.*
MDN has gone on the record a number of times opposing forced pooling and notes that Gov. Corbett has also publicly stated he opposes it.
It cuts both ways in the drilling debate: Just as my neighbors should not be able to tell me I can’t allow drilling for gas on my land, neither should I be able to tell them they must allow it simply because everyone around them wants it. In both cases it is tyranny of the minority by the majority (ie mob rule), the very thing our republic was crafted to avoid. Inconvenient? You bet. But better than the alternative where individual landowners lose their property rights.
*Hazelton The Standard Speaker (Jul 16, 2011) – Shale panel recommends generic impact fee