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Western Pennsylvania counties reap increase in gas drilling fees

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Thursday, June 13, 2013, 3:24 p.m.
 

Thursday felt like Christmas for Pennsylvania municipalities in line to receive the next batch of money from deep-shale drilling impact fees.

Despite a small drop statewide in fees collected, townships, boroughs, cities and towns in Western Pennsylvania will receive 2 percent more this year than last.

“We doubled,” said Lori Ziencik, chairwoman of the Frazer Board of Supervisors in Allegheny County. “That will come in very handy.”

Last year, Frazer received $54,587.05 in impact fees. This year, the township will receive $101,911.83. Ziencik said the money from the last two years will go toward fixing a 3-mile stretch of Days Run Road, a job estimated to cost Frazer $250,000. The township added nine wells subject to the fee.

“Christmas in July,” Ziencik said.

The Pennsylvania Utilities Commission announced Thursday how much municipalities will receive from the per-well fee assessed to cover roadwork, conservation, housing and other costs from the impact of gas companies drilling deep into shale formations for natural gas.

Statewide, gas companies will pay $202.4 million in impact fees for their wells in Pennsylvania. Last year, the state received $204.2 million in fees.

Act 13, the legislation that established the fees in February 2012, tied what drillers pay to the price of natural gas. A drop in that price forced the state to lower its fee for each well by about $5,000, the utility commission reported in April.

“The price of natural gas is one of the largest factors,” Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for the utilities commission, said of the drop.

A few wells in Northeastern and Western Pennsylvania were capped and not assessed a fee this year, Kocher said.

Gas companies drilled 1,352 new wells in 2012. Most were horizontal and assessed a $45,000 fee. The state charged a $35,000 fee on the 4,920 wells drilled before 2012. The 284 vertical wells in the state are assessed one-fifth of the fee for a horizontal well.

Despite adding 85 wells last year, Greene County will see the biggest drop in impact fees, receiving $224,309.17, or 7 percent, less than last year. Westmoreland and Fayette Counties also will receive less in impact fees this year.

Cumberland, last year's big winner netting more than $1 million from fees, will receive $787,151.13 this year. William Groves, chair of the township's board of supervisors, had thought Cumberland's allocation would remain consistent, despite losing six eligible wells.

“That's going to make me do some re-calculating,” Groves said. “But hey, I'm grateful for whatever we're going to get.”

Washington County will receive the most money from impact fees in Western Pennsylvania, bringing in $4.7 million, a 6 percent increase over last year. The county added 204 eligible wells last year, bringing its total to 686.

Lawrence County will see the biggest jump in the amount of impact fees it receives. Drillers will give the county $207,646.60 this year, more than double the $94,947.30 the county received last year, when there were only two wells. There are now 20 wells in the county.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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