PA legislation could trade community control for drilling fees
“There’s some pretty strong language in there about restrictions on municipalities’ abilities to in any way regulate Marcellus Shale drilling activities,” she said. “It’s a dual-edged sword because there’s a lot of funding in there for conservation districts, but I don’t think we should be supporting any legislation that ties the hands of our municipal officials to regulate this industry.”
Beecher expressed alarm at the swift pace and scant information available. “This legislation is moving pretty fast and we’ve had some trouble getting information about it,” she said. “It’s been very secretive. The places where we usually get information on legislation just don’t have much information on this.”
Beecher cited other issues. “There’s a lot of language relative to the PA Oil and Gas Act, including provisions such as setbacks for gas wells from drinking water sources and setbacks from water resources for drilling infrastructure; unfortunately, the definition of water resources is really problematic in that it refers to named streams and water courses on topographic maps and many many headwater streams are not shown on topographic maps.”
Beecher called it an example of how the legislation works around some of the natural resources protections the conservation district would like to see. “I don’t think we’re going to have a chance to comment on this before it gets voted on,” she added. “It’s kind of disheartening the way this is moving through the legislature without a lot of information being available to people that are interested in seeing the details.”
The new drilling fee proposal moved out of the Senate Appropriations Committee later that evening when the amendment offered by Senator Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) to Senate Bill 1100 proposing a uniform, statewide Marcellus Shale drilling fee starting at $50,000 per well, per year decreasing to $10,000 after 10 years was approved largely along party lines. Senate Democrats offered their own proposal starting at $75,000 per well, which was defeated along with their call for wider setbacks from waterways and more.
The Scarnati amendment includes a process that would allow drilling companies to request the Attorney General to review local ordinances to determine whether they allow for the reasonable development of oil and gas mineral rights, rather than the blanket exemption from regulating drilling by local governments as proposed by Governor Corbett.
In a letter to members of the General Assembly, Governor Corbett attempted to explain his reasons for the language he proposed, linking the need for consistent regulations to the need for jobs.