Butler County communities welcome increased drilling revenues

Aaron Aupperlee
| Saturday, June 22, 2013, 10:07 p.m.

In the coming weeks, communities in Butler County will receive $2.78 million in fees from gas companies drilling deep into the Marcellus shale for natural gas.

Now, they must now decide how to spend it.

Despite a $1.8 million drop in the amount of fees collected statewide for 2012, Butler County municipalities increased their haul by $723,831 over the previous year, the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission said. Only five townships will see less revenues.

“That's good news,” said Butler Mayor Maggie Stock of the $41,791 her city will receive, almost triple over 2011. “We can use it for streets and we (need) some bridge repairs.”

County officials will get $1 million, said Commissioner William McCarrier. The county put last year's money toward its 911 dispatch center, Alameda Park, the Sunnyview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and drug court. It also dumped more than $100,000 into a reserve fund.

The county would have had to raise taxes to cover some services without the $741,351 it received for 2011, McCarrier said.

The vast majority of Butler County communities invested last year's fees in road maintenance or put the money into reserve funds, according to reports submitted to the utilities commission.

Act 13, signed into law in February 2012, established the per-well fees to cover roadwork, conservation, housing and other costs stemming from the impact of drilling for natural gas. The law tied what drillers pay to the price of natural gas, which fell by a third from 2011 to 2012. That forced the state to lower its fee for each well by about $5,000, the commission reported in April.

However, a drilling boom in Butler County more than compensated for the drop. The county added 68 wells in 2012, bringing its total to 152. Gas companies tapped 11 new wells in both Forward and Mercer, bringing them tens of thousands of dollars. Mercer, which received only $1,966 in fees for 2011, will pocket nearly $80,000 for 2012.

“It's a nice influx of money into the township,” said Richard Stuchal, chairman of Mercer's Board of Supervisors. “There's no doubt it will go to road maintenance.

Slippery Rock Township received $7,147 for 2011 and invested the money in its emergency services team, buying five new radios, said township Supervisor John Hines. Supervisors will meet soon to decide how to spend the nearly $60,000 coming into the township for 2012.

“I knew we had more coming, but I never dreamt it would such a significant amount,” Hines said.

Allegheny is one of the few communities receiving less money. It used $32,771 in 2011 fees to buy a new 10-ton dump truck, said Supervisor Richard Farrington. The 2012 haul of $20,132 will go to roads and maybe a plow for the dump truck.

“We're happy with any extra funding we can get,” Farrington said. He noted drilling activity has decreased in the township, but a new well is poised to be tapped.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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