Marcellus Shale Task Force Approves Impact Fee Recommendation

Marcellus Shale Task Force Approves Impact Fee Recommendation

Posted 15 July 2011, by Jim Hamill, WNEP-TV 16 The News Channel (A LocalTV, LLC website, powered by Tribune Digital), wnep.com

There has been a lot of talk in the statecapital about how Pennsylvania should regulate the natural gas industry.

The governor’s Marcellus Shale Task Force spent nearly all day Friday approving recommendations for its upcoming report.

Recommendations are all they are right now, dozens of them ranging from environmental protection to creating a local impact fee.

However, at least one environmental advocate said she feels the commission is too lopsided in favor of the gas industry, and therefore fundamentally flawed.

Nearly 30 members of the Marcellus shale advisory commission approved one recommendation after another during their meeting in Harrisburg.

It’s the culmination of months of fact finding and hearings the men and women were asked to do to help the state get a handle on a booming natural gas industry.

Only about four of the members represent conservation and environmental agencies, far outnumbered by those who are on gas company payrolls. That has some doubting the commission’s legitimacy.

“The way the conversation was going, there’s clearly not a balanced representation here on the part of the people in the room,” said Jan Jarret of PennFuture, a state-wide environmental group.

The commission wound up unanimously recommending a local impact fee that would funnel money to areas impacted by natural gas development.

However, Jarrett said, the recommendation would merely focus on repairing any damage done.

“None of the revenue could be used to improve lives of Pennsylvanians in the Marcellus shale regions,” Jarrett added.

Still, those on the commission disagree, particularly Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland, who said the group is going to be able to separate fact from fiction.

“The governor put together a team, commission members that are knowledgeable,” Wheeland said.

One major recommendation is Pennsylvania should have a law allowing what is called forced pooling. The law would force property owners to lease their gas rights under certain conditions if they hold out.

Commission members, including Vince Matteo who is President of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, said the group wants to create a healthy business environment for natural gas.

“To make sure that all Pennsylvanians for certain who want to work in this industry and need jobs are able to get them and able to be trained for jobs available,” said Matteo.

The impact fee would presumably help local communities deal with a wide range of effects of gas drilling.

Members debated whether those effects would include protecting land, wildlife and outdoor recreation.  That is something Commissioner Wheeland could not get on board with.

“The industry has stepped forward and has taken care of these until they stop doing that, there’s no reason to tax them,” said Wheeland.

Within a week, the commission should deliver its report to the governor where the details of each issue will undergo quite a bit of debate before they are implemented, if at all.

Some of the biggest recommendations coming out of the voting Friday include the impact fee for local governments and the backing of forced pooling.

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