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Gas fee probably no-go in county

Gov. Corbett proposes a plan applying only to counties with gas-drilling wells.

Luzerne County wouldn’t be permitted to collect a natural gas impact fee proposed by the governor because it has no active drilling sites. Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal, unveiled Monday, would allow counties to charge a fee of up to $160,000 spread over 10 years on each active well. The fee would generate revenue for counties and municipalities “experiencing the actual impacts of the drilling,” a release said.

The state would receive 25 percent of the revenue, with 70 percent of that going to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to maintain and repair roads in counties hosting drilling sites. The fee won’t generate money for other counties or municipalities to repair roads that have increased wear and tear from heavy truck traffic related to drilling activity in neighboring counties.

However, the governor’s spokesman, Eric Shirk, said counties and municipalities have the power to impose weight limits on their roads. Special permits could be required for heavier vehicles, and the government entity may require bonds to cover road damage as part of the permitting process, Shirk said.

The proposal could also provide some benefits related to two natural gas pipelines – one under construction and the other planned – in Dallas Township, Shirk said. The state’s share of the fee would provide up to $2 million for the Public Utility Commission to inspect and enforce natural gas pipeline standards, he said.

Corbett’s proposal increases the dollar amount of bonds that must be posted by natural gas drillers from $25,000 up to $250,000. It also increases the distance drilling sites may be located from waterways, public water systems and private wells.

The impact fee is estimated to generate about $120 million in the first year, increasing to $200 million within six years, the release said.

State Sen. John T. Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, and other Democratic senators issued a release Monday that was largely critical of the proposal.

The allocation of revenue to only some areas would create a “fragmented patch work of ‘have and have-not’ communities across Pennsylvania,” said Yudichak, who believes the state should handle the fee collection and revenue disbursement.

“How can you develop secondary markets for natural gas in Pennsylvania like power generation and natural gas vehicles if the bulk of the money only goes to those counties that host a Marcellus Shale rig?” Yudichak said.

He said he and other senators from both parties have been working on natural gas legislation since January, hoping to pass a plan by the end of the year. Senators have agreed on the need for bond and setback increases, but he expects a lot of debate over the impact fee.

Dr. Tom Jiunta, spokesman for the local Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, said he was less than thrilled with several aspects of the proposal, saying the fee should be volume-based rather than flat, that more money should go to the DEP to hire inspectors and that counties that don’t have wells but are still impacted should get a cut. He’s concerned there is no mention of funding for the state Growing Greener program and no moratorium on drilling in state forests and parks is included. And he wanted to see bigger setbacks from water sources.

Jiunta also said provisions are needed for wells that are re-stimulated. “If an operator comes back five years later to re-stimulate a well, they would need the same amount of trucks to come in re-frack it,” Jiunta said, referring to the hydraulic fracturing that stimulates the release of gas from the shale.

State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, said the governor’s proposal “should help push agreement and action on impact fees that will provide better levels of community and environmental protection.”

“Between what he presented today and what the Senate has developed over many months, there are the necessary elements for a responsible package of regulatory improvements and revenue generation,” Baker said.

She said she was pleased the governor increased drilling setbacks, though she expects debate over “what distance is sufficient to prevent damage to streams and lakes when spills occur.”

Times Leader staff writer Steve Mocarsky contributed to this story.

To Read Gov. Tom Corbett’s response to recommendations of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, visit www.times

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