Saturday, December 10, 2011

PA Marcellus News Digest December 8, 2011 and PA State Impact Fee

Capitolwire: PA business groups back zoning compromise, 'consistent' impact fee policy.

By Kevin Zwick
Staff Reporter

HARRISBURG (Dec. 8) – Several business organizations sent a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett and state lawmakers, urging them “to reconcile the differences” between the House and Senate Marcellus Shale bills to pass legislation before the end of the month.

But while legislative leaders have reached a compromise favorable to the state’s leading business organizations on zoning, the two chambers are still at odds with each other and the Corbett administration on other important aspects of the proposals.

One key component upon which the business groups agreed with the Legislature is the zoning compromise that would allow local officials to regulate oil and gas so long as laws provided for “reasonable” development of oil and gas. Local officials and gas companies would also be able to request that the Attorney General review an ordinance to determine whether it allowed reasonable development.

“We recognize the powers of municipal governments in land use planning and zoning, and support legislation that sets our clear, statewide, uniform standards reserving to our local governments their relevant zoning powers,” the business organizations wrote.

However, it’s unclear whether the Corbett administration is open for changing their stance on the zoning aspect of the legislation. In November, the governor actively pushed for a plan that would totally negate all local zoning on Marcellus Shale drilling. He said in a letter that the state used to have this power over drilling, lost it through court cases and needs to re-establish it to keep drilling rigs from moving to Ohio, where there is pre-emption.

When asked if the administration is still promoting its statewide zoning proposal, Corbett’s top energy staffer Patrick Henderson said: “Addressing the zoning issue is an important component of the Marcellus Shale legislative package. We remain committed to continuing our productive talks with the House and the Senate and reaching resolution as soon as possible.”

David Patti, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council, said the organizations could live with the compromise between the House and Senate.

“We get that local governments wanna have some say and they get that through zoning,” Patti said. “As long as [local governments are] not using it in a pejorative way … that’s where the Attorney General comes in.”

“We don’t wanna expand beyond the Municipalities Planning Code [MPC] framework,” Patti said. The MPC provides local governments with tools to plan development through options like zoning and land development ordinances.

The heads of four major Pennsylvania business groups – Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the Allegheny Conference of Community Development, along with Patti’s organization – signed the letter.

Legislative leaders and the administration are still at odds over how to collect the impact fees.

The business groups also called for “standardized” and “consistent” environmental, safety, health, labor, transportation, taxation, and impact fee policies “across all municipal jurisdictions in the Commonwealth without local variation or uneven enforcement.”

Senate Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, on Wednesday said members of the Senate GOP caucus are against imposing a county-by-county impact fee collection, but prefer a statewide collection performed by the state. Some Senate GOP members believe allowing counties to choose to collect an impact fee is “not good business,” Scarnati said.

This garnered a response from House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, who said that having a county-by-county collection was “key” to passing legislation in the House, and a top House GOP staffer said negotiating on the county-by-county collection is “a non-starter.”

The Senate has three session days scheduled for next week, and none after that. The House is scheduled to be in for four days next week and two days the following week. Scarnati said on Wednesday that he would not call for extra session days unless it was to vote on a final product that had been agreed to by the Senate, House and governor.

PA Marcellus News Digest
Chesapeake Bay Foundation: PA General Assembly: No more delays!
Dec. 7, 2011
(HARRISBURG, PA)—Matthew J. Ehrhart, Pennsylvania Executive Director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and member of the Governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, today issued the following statement:
"The environment and our communities cannot afford any more delays. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation continues to urge the Pennsylvania General Assembly to work together to resolve the important issues surrounding the extraction of natural gas from unconventional shale formations.

A call to fix inadequate Marcellus Shale bills
Rep. Vitali
Dec. 7, 2011

HARRISBURG, Dec. 7 – Legislators, experts and local officials today called for significant improvements to two Marcellus Shale bills during a Capitol news conference hosted by state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware.

Salts From Drilling, a Drinking Water Danger, Still Showing Up in Rivers
90.5 Essential Public Radio
Reid R. Frazier and Ann Murray
Dec. 2, 2011
(audio included)

Standing on a catwalk over a pool of water near the banks of the Ohio River, Frank Blaskovich points at a series of pipes draining into the far end of the pool.


Cabot study shows "no relationship" between methane in water and drilling
Scranton Times-Tribune

Dec. 8, 2011
A recent study by Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. geologists published in the Oil and Gas Journal found that methane is "ubiquitous" in Susquehanna County groundwater in a pattern that reflects the contours of the region's geology and that there is "no relationship between dissolved methane and oil and gas activities."

County impact fee remains sticking point
Scranton Times-Tribune
Robert Swift
Dec. 8, 2011
HARRISBURG - A county-optional Marcellus Shale impact fee remains a sticking point in three-way negotiations to shape compromise legislation addressing a host of drilling-related issues.


State, driller and families in Dimock water dispute file arguments with board
Scranton Times-Tribune
Laura Legere
Dec. 8, 2011

Families fighting for drinking water deliveries to resume in Dimock Twp. and the state regulators and natural gas driller who say they were right to allow the deliveries to stop submitted arguments Wednesday in a case before the Environmental Hearing Board.


EPA Implicates Fracking In Wyoming Pollution
Dec. 8, 2011
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday for the first time that fracking — a controversial method of improving the productivity of oil and gas wells — may be to blame for causing groundwater pollution.
The draft finding could have a chilling effect in states trying to determine how to regulate the process.


Troubled ethanol plant looks to sell water for fracking
Ethanol Producer Magazine
Holly Jessen
Dec. 1, 2011
Idled ethanol plant Bionol Clearfield LLC is working to get approval to sell some of the water it would be using for ethanol production to sell to the natural gas extraction industry for “fracking.”

Gas royalty payments not as much as thought
Dec. 7, 2011
STATE COLLEGE (AP) - A re-evaluation of state personal income tax returns has shown Pennsylvania received much less tax money than it expected from natural gas royalties.

Pennsylvania's Department of Revenue last week released an updated report on how much Marcellus Shale-related revenue it received in personal income taxes - a figure that shines light on the amount, in rent and royalties, that state residents are receiving from gas companies.


Rapp bill addresses federal role in ANF oil, gas rights

The Times Observer
Josh Cotton
Dec. 8, 2011

State Rep. Kathy Rapp wants the feds to stop meddling in the Allegheny National Forest.
State legislation intended to limit the federal government's attempt to control access to mineral rights in the Allegheny National Forest passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives' Committee on State Government on Wednesday.


Feds: Pay attention to drilling in Pa., elsewhere
Centre Daily Times
Kevin Begos
Dec. 7, 2011

PITTSBURGH — The final report from a federal panel on natural gas drilling warns that the industry and the government need to do more to address environmental concerns.


Senate Impact Fee Vote Shines Light On How Bills Are Passed

NPR State Impact
Scott Detrow
Dec. 7, 2011

The state Senate’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee is set to consider and approve the House’s impact fee today.


Capitolwire: Senate concerned over county-by-county impact fee collection.

When asked whether he thought there could be compromise on the issue, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, responded: "The local option was in the governor’s proposal and was a key component to passage" by the House.
A House GOP source later said compromising on the county-by-county collection would be "a non-starter."

Kevin Zwick
Dec. 7, 2011
(full text below)

HARRISBURG (Dec. 7) – The Senate’s top Republican said some members of his caucus believe that a county-by-county impact fee collection plan – supported by the governor and adopted by the House – is “not good business.”

“If we wanna be business friendly, we do it statewide,” Senate Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said on Wednesday after a Senate environmental panel voted to replace language on the House's shale bill with the Senate bill's language. “If we wanna have a hodgepodge, maybe we could accommodate some of that going to a county-by-county.”

Gov. Tom Corbett proposed the county-by-county collection system, and the House adopted that into their legislation. But Scarnati says the Senate’s plan calls for “uniformity” by having the state collect the fee.

“I’m not sure where the compromise ultimately lies, but many members of our chamber believe county-by-county is not good business,” he added.

Based on the response by the governor’s office and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, the Senate’s plan isn’t the answer either.

"We can think of nothing more business unfriendly than a hodgepodge approach toward local zoning, or adopting a severance tax under the guise of being an impact fee," Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said in an email about any shale plan.

Turzai said that the House's bill was "essentially the governor’s proposal."

"The governor indicated that he wanted a county option in his Marcellus Shale proposal, which came from his commission," Turzai said. "Our caucus is completely supportive of a county option and we do not see how it can be done without a county option. It was a cornerstone of the governor's proposal ... we do not support a statewide tax."

When asked whether he thought there could be compromise on the issue, Turzai responded: "The local option was in the governor’s proposal and was a key component to passage" by the House.

A House GOP source said compromising on the county-by-county collection would be "a non-starter."

But Scarnati said he still believed a deal was possible.

“At some point we have to reconcile all those differences…we’re confident we’re gonna get there. Are we gonna get there next week? Difficult. Could we get there by the end of the year, that just depends on how well everybody wants to move this process along,” Scarnati said.

He said he would only add session days to the end of the year to vote on a final product that was an agreement with the House, Senate and governor.

The Senate's language includes a higher fee imposed per well over a longer period of time compared to the fee structure in the House bill.

Each chamber's respective bill has similar language regarding local zoning, which would allow the Attorney General to weigh in on whether local zoning laws allow for "reasonable development" of oil and gas.

Scarnati would not go into details about the ongoing negotiations with the House and governor's office, saying he did not want to “jeopardize” those talks.

“What I can say is that our caucus still has reservations on a county option. … It’s something we think we can resolve, hope we can resolve, and like I said, those negotiations are ongoing and I just don’t wanna discuss what is being negotiated to jeopardize the process,” Scarnati said. “It would be unfair of me at this point - because negotiations are going on - to characterize the negotiations."

Senate Democrats still have concerns about financial aspects of the legislation, said Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Allegheny, but some colleagues prefer the Senate product to the House bill.

“The Senate bill is far better than the House bill,” said Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester, although he said southeast lawmakers have “serious questions” about issues of transmission pipelines.

Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said the pipeline issue is a “paramount concern” for her constituents.

Scarnati said that issue would be addressed in separate legislation.


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