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Increased gas drill boosts impact fee collection in Armstrong, state

| Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 1:06 a.m.
Louis B.Ruediger | Leader Times
Ryder Atherton, 4, and his brother, Bentley, 2, enjoy blowing bubbles while visiting their grandmother's house on Orr Avenue in Kittanning, Monday, June 2, 2014..
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Armstrong County received an about 11 percent increase — from $570,375 to $662,984 — in impact fees the state collected from energy companies for drilling natural gas wells, the Public Utility Commission reported on Monday.

The 45 municipalities within the county received nearly $1 million in the fees, with Manor receiving the most at $95,563, and Hovey Township getting the lowest amount, $956. Last year, the municipalities received $950,000.

Officials attributed the increase in fees collected — about 11.5 percent statewide — to a rebound in the price of natural gas that spurred more drilling by energy companies.

“We're seeing a big increase just from the sheer amount of wells drilled last year,” Gov. Tom Corbett's energy executive, Patrick Henderson, said before Monday's figures were released by the PUC. “We're simply going to be collecting fees from more wells this year.”

The state collected fees on 6,489 wells this year — 1,187 more than in 2013, Henderson said. The state collected $225.75 million, up from the $202.4 million it collected last year and higher than the $204.2 million collected in 2012, the first year impact fees were assessed.

“We've seen our funding increase slightly every year, which has helped us as we move ahead with our annual budget,” said Carly Cowan, Armstrong County's Marcellus shale coordinator.

Act 13, the state's natural gas drilling law, regulates how communities can spend the money. The 13 categories range from road and water projects to environmental programs and tax reductions. Communities can choose to save it for expensive capital purchases.

Cowan said the county put its allocation last year toward the 911 department's $1.7 million operating budget.

“Since we're able to use that money for public safety, we were able to put that money into 911, which kept us from having a shortfall in the overall budget,” Cowan said.

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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