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Website to provide upclose look at Marcellus operation

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 6:04 p.m.

A website on Marcellus shale natural gas wells aimed at giving residents information about drilling with the touch of a mouse and computer keyboard has been introduced by the Westmoreland County Planning Department.

Users can learn basic terminology associated with the industry, see locations where wells have been drilled through 2011, and learn how much money specific municipalities in the county will earn from the new, Unconventional Gas Well Impact Fee.

The site can be accessed through the county's homepage at www.co.westmoreland.pa.us or directly at www.co.westmoreland.pa.us/drilling.

"We just didn't want to throw a lot of information onto a website ... we wanted it to be useful and as user-friendly as possible. We hope we did that," said Chris Bova, deputy director of the planning department.

The website was developed after Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law House Bill 1950, and counties began reacting to provisions of Act 13 of 2012, which established the impact fee. The new law creates a drilling impact fee and specifies how those funds are to be distributed.

A significant portion of the fees will be used to cover local impacts of drilling, while several state agencies are to receive funding for a variety of other purposes.

The law addresses environmental standards and defines local regulatory control.

"Ever since House Bill 1950 was passed, a lot of questions have been generated by the public and local municipalities ... ," Westmoreland County Commissioner Charles Anderson said. "This section of the website will serve as a resource and tool to answer those questions."

According to statistics from the state Department of Environmental Protection, since the beginning of 2009, there have been 162 Marcellus shale gas wells drilled in Westmoreland County. The new fees are expected to infuse about $4 million into county and local municipality coffers.

Westmoreland accounts for approximately 4 percent of all of the Marcellus shale wells in Pennsylvania.

It is estimated that the county government would receive about $2 million this year as its share of the revenue from the impact fees.

The county's municipalities that have wells within their borders would split a pool of an additional $1.4 million, while other nearby municipalities affected by the wells would receive a share of another $1 million.

On the website, residents can click on a specific municipality to see an estimate of annual revenues it is expected to receive.

Featured sections on the website include "Act 13 Explained" which includes a section on frequently asked questions, an overview of new development regulations association with drilling and how it impacts local land use; "Use of Funds," which includes a breakdown of the funding statewide, as well as estimates for how much each municipality can anticipate each year; and basic information of each Marcellus well "spud" in the county.

"A spud is just terminology for wells drilled ... now it may not mean that well is in production, but it means it was drilled," Bova said.

County Planning Director Jason Rigone said because the legislation is new and specific program guidelines are still being released, the website will be frequently updated.

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