By Ben Hulac, Contributing Writer
A bill to create impact fees for companies drilling for natural gas in Marcellus Shale wells has been passed by both state legislative bodies and now moves on to Governor Corbett for his final approval.
During his speech on Tuesday to unveil the proposed new state budget, the governor also said that passing and finalizing this Marcellus Shale legislation represented a strong commitment to safely developing oil and gas practices within Pennsylvania. Corbett is expected to sign the bill into law on Thursday.
The Pennsylvania House and Senate both gave their nods of approval on Wednesday, a significant step forward from years of back-and-forth between both parties over Marcellus Shale issues.
The legislation includes a county-option and is designed to provide revenue for environmental programs across the state. The bill also will trigger a review of zoning codes and their relation to drilling for the natural gas trapped below the earth’s crust —a process called “hydraulic fracturing” in which chemicals and water are pumped into the ground to extract bubbles of natural gas.
Described as an “impact fee bill,” this legislation will allow counties with active wells of Marcellus Shale to tax drilling companies in hopes of offsetting the cost incurred by private drilling companies in their respective counties.
Experts project that, assuming Corbett signs this bill into law today, Pa. counties would enforce a range of impact fees, allowing for a sliding scale of taxes against drillers and ranging from $40,000 to $60,000. The size of the tax would depend on the damage done by drilling.
While this bill is being touted as a step in the right direction by many, not everyone is pleased.
The bill has received criticism from House and Senate members who believe that the impact fee does not accurately represent the damage done due to Marcellus Shale drilling. Others argue that Pennsylvania simply deserves more revenue.
According to The Times-Tribune, Pa. Senator John Blake, D-22, told his colleagues, “Lackawanna County residents experience the impact of drilling in the region on their roads, drinking water, housing costs and property taxes” but that the bill “only provides a fragment of the impact fee revenue that Pennsylvania deserves.”
While Blake and others feel that this bill does not do enough to offset the total impact of drilling for natural gas, other say it undermines the role of local municipal leaders.
In a story published in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Brian Coppola, a supervisor in Washington County said that the bill goes too far. “When you remove zoning and land at the local level, there’s really nothing else for a municipal government to do,” he said. “You’ve turned the whole system upside down, not just the drilling.”