WV’s Severance Tax Rate at 5% is Already Too High; Don’t Raise It

It appears Pennsylvania is not the only state in the Marcellus/Utica region facing pressure to kill the drilling industry with high severance taxes. West Virginia is now facing a fight of its own. WV already has the highest severance tax among the three M-U producing states. Ohio’s effective severance tax rate is 1.3%. Pennsylvania’s effective severance tax rate (called an impact fee, roughly the same thing), works out to be around 2.9%. WV’s severance tax is an already-high 5%–yet in WV (like PA) teacher’s unions are pressuring politicians to raise the severance tax. In WV they want a boost to a “modest” 7.5%. It would make WV the highest severance tax in the lower 48 if it went to 7.5%. WV is rattled following an extended teacher strike, looking to prevent a future strike. While we’ve not read of any specific new proposals (bills) to increase the severance tax, folks from the drilling industry are worried enough that a past president of IOGAWV penned the following editorial on the topic…
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PA Supreme Court Takes a Close Look at Strippers…as in Wells

It’s always fun to talk about strippers here on MDN. Uh, stripper wells that is. Background: In 2012 Pennsylvania passed the Act 13 drilling law that includes an impact fee on wells targeting shale layers, including the Marcellus. Snyder Brothers, headquartered in PA, drills mostly conventional (vertical only) wells in southwestern PA. In 2011-2012 they drilled 45 vertical-only wells targeting the Marcellus. All 45 of the vertical-only wells were fracked. Initially those wells produced more than 90 thousand cubic feet per day (Mcf/day), but by December of the year in which they were drilled, the wells produced less than 90 Mcf/day. The way the 2012 Act 13 law is written, if a well produces less than 90 Mcf/day during “any” month it is considered a stripper well and exempt from paying the impact fee. The state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) assessed the fee anyway because for 11 months the wells produced more than 90 Mcf/day, arguing the word “any” is not a get-out-tax-jail-free card. Snyder Bros. sued and after an appeal of the case, Snyder Bros. won the case in March 2017, exempting those wells from paying impact fees (see PA Court Says Snyder Bros Wells are Strippers, No Impact Fees Due). That sent the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) into a tizzy with claims the Act 13 impact fees are now in jeopardy. So the PUC appealed the case to the PA Supreme Court. The Supremes heard arguments in the case last Wednesday…
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LibDem PA Sen Yudichak Floats Bill to Kill Marcellus with Severance Tax

As predictable as spring dandelions (weeds that won’t give up), a Marcellus Shale severance tax is once again being pushed by leftists in Harrisburg who want to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to give it away to teachers unions in the Philadelphia area. The interesting twist is that this time the bill introduced in the PA Senate is not from a Philly Senator, but is being authored and introduced by northeast PA Democrat Sen. John Yudichak–from Luzerne County (Wilkes-Barre area). Apparently Yudichak has been nominated as Gov. Wolf’s patsy, to do Wolf’s bidding and dirty work this time around. On Monday Yudichak issued a “co-sponsorship memo” to elicit names he can list on the bill when it’s formally introduced. No doubt he’ll get at least a few sell-out Republicans, like RINOs from the Philly area, and perhaps even some Republicans from drilling areas, like Sen. Gene Yaw from Williamsport, who voted for a similar bill last year…
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Exposing PA Gov. Wolf’s Lies – He is No Friend of the Marcellus

The gloves have finally come off. Typically the Marcellus industry, as represented by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, has used restrained language when talking about Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. Hey, the industry has to work with the guy because the state Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP)–the agency that regulates shale drilling–is part of the executive branch (under Wolf’s thumb). The industry often can’t say what it really thinks. No more. Wolf, who pretends to be a friend of the Marcellus industry and mouths words of support, recently launched a vicious, lying attack against the industry over the severance tax issue (as part of his re-election campaign). The gloves are now off and the MSC is punching back. MSC president Dave Spigelmyer published an editorial in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer pointing out the difference between Wolf’s words and his deeds. In a bout of political schizophrenia (some would say hypocrisy), Wolf says shale gas in PA represents “enormous economic opportunity.” He then turns around and claims high-paid Marcellus lobbyists have spread money around Harrisburg like candy, bribing legislators to block a severance tax. What Wolf doesn’t tell you is that he himself has received millions of dollars from the teacher’s unions he’s promised to give severance tax money to…
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Report: The State of Natural Gas in Pennsylvania

The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania’s premier free-market think tank. The aim of the Foundation is to “transform free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.” We’ve highlighted their excellent work over the years. They’ve just done it again. The Commonwealth Foundation has just published a report called “The State of Natural Gas in Pennsylvania” (full copy below). The opening begins this way: “Pennsylvania’s regulatory and tax environment is stunting job growth and deterring investment. A decade after the Marcellus Shale boom, lawmakers are still debating how to tax the industry instead of fixing the policies contributing to Pennsylvania’s increasingly uncompetitive energy market.” At the end of the report the Foundation shows a severance tax comparison of existing severance taxes in other states that PA competes against, like Ohio, West Virginia, Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma. The chart shows that the existing impact fee (in essence a severance tax) runs around 1.1%. The severance tax in Ohio is running around 0.7%, and in West Virginia 3.5%. In places like Texas, which increasingly competes against PA with prodigious quantities of natural gas production, the severance tax is 4.2%. However, Gov. Wolf’s proposed severance tax would be 5%–the highest in the nation except for New Mexico’s 7.9% (which doesn’t compete with PA). The report shows how PA is restricting Marcellus activity with over-regulation and a high corporate income tax…
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IFO Report: Proposed Wolf Severance Tax Hits PA Landowners Hard

One of the lies told by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in attempting to sell a Marcellus-killing severance tax to the general population is that most of the tax would fall on businesses and corporations outside of PA. The rallying cry has always been that PA landowners would not bear any of the severance tax–as in deductions from royalties paid. That lie was exposed by none other than the PA Independent Fiscal Office last week when the IFO released a report that calculates of the estimated $210 million in severance taxes that would be raised, per year, by the latest Wolf proposal–some $28 million of it (over 13%) would come out of the pockets of landowners–IN THE FIRST YEAR. By the third year, that number rockets to $51 million (or 24%). That is, a meaningfully large portion of the proposed severance tax WILL get passed on to landowners as deductions from their royalties. Lesson for landowners: Don’t fall for the siren song from Wolf and RINOs who say “If you support the severance tax (it won’t affect you), we’ll get you your minimum royalty bill.” It’s a farce…
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PA Senator from Philly Slanders Marcellus, Accepts $635K in Union $

PA State Senator Vincent Hughes

Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes from Philadelphia is smug, arrogant, and completely wrong about the Marcellus industry–and he enjoys being wrong. Maybe because he’s being paid to be wrong. At a recent PA Department of Revenue Senate Appropriations Hearing (watch it below), Hughes attacked the Marcellus industry with slanders, slurs and outright lies in an attempt to paint the industry as greedy because they have resisted a severance tax on top of an impact tax. Hughes’ testimony was so full of lies, so egregiously wrong, the Marcellus Shale Coalition felt compelled to respond with a document to correct the whoppers the arrogant Hughes pedaled at the hearing (see it below). Why does Hughes attack the industry? We think we know. The Commonwealth Foundation recently published the Top 10 recipients of funds received from public sector unions (including Philly teacher’s unions). Senator Hughes received the second largest amount since 2010–topping $635,000. Yeah, Hughes is BOUGHT AND PAID FOR by Philly teacher’s unions–the same unions Gov. Wolf has promised, repeatedly, that he would shower with money from a Marcellus Shale severance tax…
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PA’s Uneven Tax Treatment of Marcellus Industry vs. Amazon HQ2

What if a private company wanted to locate in a state, bringing with it 243,000 direct and spin-off jobs with an average salary of $93,000? And what if that company invested billions of dollars in the state economy? No doubt the state (and local municipalities) would offer up plenty of incentives to ensure they get the business. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (and the State of Pennsylvania) are doing just that–offering up all sorts of incentives to attract Amazon to build its HQ2 project in the Keystone State–a project that promises a huge investment and thousands of employees. However, Amazon’s HQ2 will not employ 243,000 people and inject billions–not anywhere close. But there is an industry that is ALREADY doing exactly what we’ve outlined in the opening sentence. The Marcellus Shale industry has created 243,000 direct and indirect jobs (with an average salary of $93K per year) and has already pumped billions of dollars into the economy. And yet the State of PA and places like Pittsburgh and Philly are, in many ways, fighting against the industry! They don’t offer tax breaks, instead they offer new tax increases! What’s going on here? Why does PA treat Jeff Bezos and Amazon one way, and the Marcellus industry another? Why does PA pick “winners” and “losers” economically? That’s the important topic of a column we recently spotted by Lowman Henry, chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute…
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PA DEP Wants to Boost Shale Fees 250% to Help Fund Non-Shale Work

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP), the agency charged with overseeing oil and gas drilling in the state, “blindsided” the shale industry last week with a proposal to hike the fee required when submitting an application to drill a new shale well (see PA DEP Plans to Raise Marcellus Well Permit Fee by 250%). The current fee is $5,000. The proposed new fee is $12,500–or 2.5 times (250%) higher. The DEP Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB) met yesterday to discuss the permit fee increase. It was DEP Deputy Sec. Scott Perry’s job to be the point guy, the spear catcher to stick up for this insane hike in fees. We understand…The DEP has fewer people working there than it once did and needs to hire more. (Although the DEP somehow found half a million bucks lying around to hire 92 interns to help out. See PA DEP’s Short-Term Solution to Get More Help – Hire 92 Interns). PA Gov. Tom Wolf wants to slap a new severance tax on shale drillers to give their money away to Philadelphia teacher’s unions. The DEP (an executive agency, part of the Wolf administration) is taking a page from Wolf’s playbook. The DEP wants to slap this insanely high fee on shale drillers to (in part) cover the expenses associated with non-shale activities. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Mr. Perry said they [shale permit fees] fund the broad scope of the [DEP] office’s operations, including its oversight of traditional [i.e. conventional] oil and gas wells, gas storage wells, abandoned wells and earthmoving activities.” How is it, in any sense, fair to hike the fees of shale drillers so DEP agents can better keep an eye on non-shale wells? Kind of like robbing Peter to pay Paul…
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More on Unintended Consequences for Pipelines from Trump Tax Cut

As we reported last week, President Trump’s marvelous tax cut has had some unintended (negative) consequences for pipeline companies (see Trump Tax Cut has Unintended Consequences for Pipeline Projects). Trade groups and some states are pressuring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to force pipeline companies to cut the rates they charge customers in light of the Trump tax cut. The corporate tax rate is going from 35% down to 21%. When pipelines file rate cases for how much they will charge customers to flow gas (or oil or whatever else) through the pipeline, part of the calculation for what FERC allows them to charge is based on profitability. Since pipeline companies will now be a whole lot more profitable (tax payments going down), the customers using those pipelines want the rates recalculated to reflect the savings. In other words, they want part of the tax savings too. But the pipeline companies say they have duly signed contracts in place. You can’t just rework a single portion of those contracts with the sweep of a pen. What about other components in the contract that are used in calculating prices? In some (many?) cases pipeline companies have borne *increased* costs that are not passed along to customers. If the customers (mainly utility companies) want FERC to adjust rates now, based on the Trump tax cut, they may not like how those rates get adjusted considering all the other factors that could/should be changed. Maybe they’ll go up instead of down! As we said last week, a trouble is brewing between utilities and the pipelines that feed them. Here’s more background and insight into the brewing trouble…
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Severance Tax Battle in PA Heats Up One More (Last?) Time

As MDN reported last week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, an extremely partisan Democrat, is once again beating the drum for a Marcellus Shale-killing severance tax in the last of his annual budgets (see PA Gov. Wolf Broken Record: Proposes Budget with Severance Tax). At least, we hope it’s Wolf’s last budget and that Pennsylvanians won’t be foolish enough to re-elect him for another four years (fool me once…). Wolf’s plan, in a nutshell, is to tax drillers (and by extension, landowners) to the tune of $250 million a year, and give that money away to teachers and their unions in the Philadelphia region–the people who elected him to office. We spotted dueling newspaper editorials from last week–one from the (sometimes) conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the other from the (always) liberal Democrat-owned Scranton Times-Tribune. Below are those editorials illustrating clear-headed thinking, and muddled thinking (respectively), along with a January column co-written by the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry laying out the case against a severance tax in the Keystone State. Unfortunately this is an ongoing battle we must fight every single year. But fight it we must…
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PA Gov. Wolf Broken Record: Proposes Budget with Severance Tax

Here we go again. Supposedly striking a more “cooperative tone,” Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf’s sympathetic media buddies are trying to spin, as best they can, Wolf’s state budget proposal delivered yesterday. Wolf is a hyper-partisan who, in this latest budget, continues to demand a $250 million/year Marcellus-killing severance tax–on top of the existing impact tax. It is the only new tax in the budget, a budget that increases the already wildly overspent state budget by an additional $1 billion! Spending in Harrisburg is completely out of control–a disaster. The last governor (frankly the only governor in a generation) who tried to correct Harrisburg’s voracious appetite to spend more, Tom Corbett, got voted out of office after one term. Wolf is hoping to score a second term by continuing his Santa Claus routine–by pulling money from the pockets of those who earn it (landowners and drillers) to give away to those who don’t (teacher’s unions in Philadelphia). We are not exaggerating–this is fact. In his proposed $32.9 million budget, Wolf claims a “modest” severance tax will generate $248.7 million this year, and ALL OF IT will go to “education”–meaning teachers and their unions in the Philadelphia region. It’s political payback for their ongoing support and for their efforts to get Wolf elected in the first place. Why is this FACT not discussed openly in the media? It is repugnant to use the gun barrel of the state to steal the wealth of one group and transfer it to another as political patronage. Yet that is Wolf’s mission. Republican legislators reacted negatively to Wolf’s wildly overspent budget (and severance tax), as did the Marcellus industry…
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Trump Tax Cut has Unintended Consequences for Pipeline Projects

President Trump’s marvelous tax cut has had some unintended (negative) consequences for pipeline companies. Trade groups and some states are pressuring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to force pipeline companies to cut the rates they charge customers in light of the Trump tax cut. The corporate tax rate is going from 35% (highest of any modern/Western country) down to 21%. Which will encourage all sorts of investment in the good old US of A. When pipelines file rate cases for how much they will charge customers to flow gas (or oil or whatever else) through the pipeline, part of the calculation for what FERC allows them to charge is based on profitability. Since those companies will now be a whole lot more profitable (tax payments going down), the customers using those pipelines want the rates recalculated to reflect the savings. In other words, they want part of the tax savings too. But wait just a rootin’-tootin’ minute! (says the pipeline companies). The pipelines have duly signed contracts in place. You can’t just rework a single portion of those contracts with the sweep of a pen. What about other components in the contract that are used in calculating prices? In some (many?) cases pipeline companies have borne increased costs that are not passed along to customers. If the customers (mainly utility companies) want FERC to adjust the rates, they may not like how those rates get adjusted considering all the other factors that could/should be changed. Maybe they’ll go up instead of down! A battle is brewing between utilities and the pipelines that feed them, all because of Trump’s tax cut…
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PA Shale Wells Drilled Soars 56% in 2017; Impact Fee Up $5,400/Well

In early 2012, Pennsylvania enacted the most sweeping rework of oil and gas laws in the state in decades (see Gov. Corbett Signs New Marcellus Drilling Law). Called Act 13, one of the provisions of the law is an “impact fee” collected on each horizontal shale well drilled. The fee is intended to offset the impacts of drilling in places where drilling happens, hence the name. However, in order to get enough support to pass Act 13, politics were played and 40% of the “fee” got re-allocated to non-impact uses–i.e., 40% of the fee became a tax (see PA’s New Tax on Drilling (er Sorry, Impact Fee)). In reality, PA’s impact “fee” is the equivalent of a severance tax. The main difference is that the fee is calculated according to a sliding schedule based on how long a well has been around. Beginning with the first year a shale well is drilled, and every year thereafter, drillers pay a set fee, regardless of how much gas is produced. If a driller drills a well but doesn’t complete it in year one, that driller still pays the same (very steep) fee, regardless of no production. In that way, an impact fee is superior to a severance tax as a revenue generator for the state. Impact fees are paid for 15 years. In setting up the somewhat complicated schedule for how much a driller will pay, it depends on how old the well is. The PA Public Utility Commission (PUC), the agency in charge of assessing and collecting the fee, periodically adjusts the fee schedule up to account for inflation. The fee assessed depends on how much the price of natural gas is selling for at the benchmark Henry Hub trading point (in Louisiana). In 2017 (which collected fees from drilling in 2016), if the price of natgas at Henry Hub averaged between $2.26 – $2.99 for the year (which it did, at $2.46/Mcf), the impact fee for a newly drilled well during the year of 2016 was $45,300. In 2018 (collecting fees from 2017), the price of natgas at Henry Hub was in the next higher bracket, averaging between $3.00 – $4.99 (2017 averaged $3.11/Mcf). So the fee for first year wells drilled last year will be $50,700–which is $5,400 higher than a driller would have paid the previous year. Our point: Drillers in PA pay big bucks in “fees” (i.e. taxes) to drill in the state. Slapping a severance tax on top of the impact fee would be a disaster, virtually shutting down any new Marcellus drilling. Yet that’s what Gov. Wolf and his Democrat comrades insist on doing. Below is the newly released impact fee schedule for 2018 (covering wells drilled in 2017), along with details on the whopping increase in the number of wells drilled in 2017 vs. 2016…
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PA IFO Says 2017 Impact Fee Revenue Near Record High

Since 2012, Pennsylvania has collected the equivalent of a severance tax from Marcellus Shale drillers via something called an impact fee. Same concept as a severance tax. You drill a well, gas comes out, you pay a tax. Except with an impact fee you pay whether or not anything comes out of the ground (a more reliable source of tax revenue than a severance tax). The impact fee quickly started to generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in extra revenue for Pennsylvania–60% of which goes back to the communities where drilling happens (which Philadelphia politicians hate), and 40% of which goes to the black hole of Harrisburg for redistribution (which Philadelphia politicians love). Drilling began to slow in 2014, and crashed in 2015/2016, with low low commodity prices for natgas. As the price went down, so too did the number of new wells drilled. Impact fee revenue (which is delayed a year) also went down. The impact fee doled out this year is based on revenues raised in 2017. The PA Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) does a pretty good job of guesstimating how much impact fee revenue will be generated. Last July, the IFO predicted impact fee revenue from 2017 would end up being around $222 million in revenue (see IFO Predicts PA Impact Fees for 2017 Will Soar, Near Record High). Now that the year is in the can and production reports are rolling in, the IFO now predicts impact fee revenue will end up at $219.3 million. The all-time high for a single year’s impact fee revenue was 2013, when it was $225.7 million. Looks like 2017 will come within a whisker of that record. Meaning higher levels of new drilling is now “back” in the PA Marcellus…
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PA Gov Wolf Floats Plan to Fix DEP Slow Drilling Permits: Hike Fees

As part of the Pennsylvania Senate’s misguided and mangled budget bill last year, Republicans managed to slip in fixes to the state Dept. of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) chronic delays in issuing permits related to shale drilling (see PA Senate’s “Olive Branch” of “Relaxed Regulations” for Drillers). Unfortunately the fixes came out before the final budget passed. Problems remain for Marcellus drillers. Delays are long in the Keystone State when it comes to permits for shale wells. The problems NEED to get fixed, now. House Republicans recently introduced a series of five different bills to help address DEP’s chronic delays (see PA House Advances “Fix DEP & Other Agencies” Plan with 5 Bills). No doubt feeling the pressure from the legislature, PA Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday introduced his own plan. Whereas the plan floated by legislators would allow third parties to assist with the backlog, Wolf’s plan is different. In a nutshell, Wolf wants to allocate more money to the DEP so they can hire more help–not third parties. Yeah, that’s the answer! More government. (Yes, we’re being sarcastic.) And what magic pocket will Wolf pull the money from to pay for an increase in head count at DEP, especially since Wolf can’t balance a budget to save his life? Why, from the pockets of the shale industry, of course. Wolf proposes boosting the $5,000 fee drillers now pay when filing to drill a new shale well to $12,500–a 250% (2.5x) increase. You want that permit on time for a change? It’ll cost you, buddy…
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