New Deal on Marcellus Shale Well Impact Fee in PA

Pennsylvania legislators in both the PA House and Senate have debated for months on passage of new Marcellus drilling legislation. The main sticking point has been a local impact fee. Last week, Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican now in his second year in office, sent the Republican-controlled legislature a “hurry up and get it done” letter. Legislators were busy finalizing details over the weekend and a plan has now emerged. Likely to be voted on this week, the plan calls for the amount of the fee to vary depending on the rate of inflation and the commodity price of natural gas.

The 15-year impact fee would rise and fall with the price of natural gas and inflation. Currently, the price of natural gas is about $2.30 per million British thermal units — a measurement used at major pipeline hubs. If the price is between $3 and $5, the total per-well fee would be $310,000 over 15 years, not counting inflation, according to a summary distributed to senators.

At the current price of gas, the 15-year fee total would be $240,000 per well, not counting inflation, according to a summary distributed to House Democrats. The maximum per-well fee a company would pay is $355,000, if gas stays above $6, while the minimum would be $190,000, if gas stays below $2.25, again not including inflation.

But the fee at any price would be well below the average lifetime per-well tax paid in other natural gas states, including $993,700 in West Virginia, $878,500 in Texas and $555,700 in Arkansas, according to the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a liberal think tank.

Counties that host the drilling would have the option of whether to impose the fee — a key element sought by Corbett and disliked by senators — but a critical mass of municipalities would have 60 days to override a county’s refusal. Counties and municipalities that refuse the fee would not get a share of the money.

Money from the impact fee and state forest drilling royalties would be distributed to a wide range of purposes, including bridge repairs, open space, water and sewer plant improvements, statewide environmental cleanup programs and purchases of natural-gas fleet vehicles. Local governments that are home to drilling would get 60 percent of the money from an impact fee, with 40 percent going to state programs or agencies, according to the summaries, even though Corbett had opposed using impact fee money for state programs.*

*Stroudsburg (PA) Pocono Record/AP (Feb 6, 2012) – Pa. GOP: Let’s vote on gas drilling this week