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Monday, July 25, 2011

Pa. shale panel recommends drilling fee, forced pooling
Friday, July 15, 2011   By Laura Olson and Sari Heidenreich, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG -- After much debate, the governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission this morning agreed to recommend a drilling impact fee and the pooling of gas reserves into a large plot even if individual landowners oppose it.
Members voted on several dozen recommendations to send to the governor next week that would encourage natural gas use, help develop the state's workforce for the industry, and provide support for emergency responders.
Discussion on those areas was relatively brief, with most of the back-and-forth coming over which impacts to list in their recommendation of a drilling fee.
The recommendation to impose drilling impact fees was approved unanimously after some tweaks to the list of included impacts. But members did not recommend any particular dollar figures or rates.
Written copies of the recommendations under discussion were not available to the public, but each work-group presented its suggestions orally to set up debate.
The lack of availability of public documents drew concerns from some in the audience trying to follow the debate.
"If they think this discussion serves as adequate public input . . . [then] that's unfortunate," said Jan Jarrett, president and CEO of the environmental advocacy group PennFuture, as the commission paused for lunch.
Others on the commission voiced concerns throughout the morning when issues arose over which they said there was too little prior discussion by the panel.
Those watching took frantic notes as Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland, who jointly led the local impacts sub-group, described their recommendation for a fee. That levy should be used to mitigate the "uncompensated" impacts being experienced as a result of the industry, said Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley.
Mr. Wheeland described a long list of impacts they observed, affecting public safety, water and sewer infrastructure, roads, housing, local government services, judicial proceedings, public health and environmental resources.
There also was discussion over a provision that would link that fee to zoning rules in municipalities, like in the impact fee proposal unveiled earlier this year by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati. That phrase will direct municipalities against "unreasonably impeding" gas drilling.
A recommendation to allow companies to "pool" sections of land into a large drilling plot, even if a landowner is unwilling to lease, was approved with much debate and three dissenting votes.
Environmentalists on the panel said they were hesitant to adopt the recommendation because of what they saw as too little discussion on the controversial policy.

"It's a problem not having more information on what we'd be supporting," said Matt Ehrhart, a commission member representing the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Mr. Cawley responded that he was befuddled by that view, saying that concern should have been raised at earlier meetings.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254. Sari Heidenreich is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.

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