Impact fees further boost Washington, Greene and its towns

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

Natural gas production is up, and so are impact fee revenues – especially in Washington and Greene counties.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission reported Thursday about $209.6 million in impact payments collected from gas producers in 2017 will be distributed. That is a $36.3 million increase from last year.

That revenue total – specifically $209,557,300 – is the third-highest disbursement in the seven years since Act 13 of 2012 became law.

Of that figure, $114,784,380 will go to county and municipal governments affected by drilling in the state; $76,522,900 to the Marcellus Legacy Fund, which supports environmental, highway, water and other projects; and $18.25 million to state agencies.

A full 24 percent of the $209.6 million disbursement – $50,219,045 – will be paid to counties and municipalities in Southwestern Pennsylvania. And 66 percent of that total ($33,264,026) will end up in Washington ($19.9 million) and Greene ($13.4 million), which rank first and second in the 10-county region.

Not surprisingly, Marcellus Shale-rich Washington and Greene are among the leaders of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties in county revenue alone, exclusive of municipal revenue. Washington, in fact, defended its commonwealth “title” at $7.3 million, up from $5.38 million from a year ago. Greene’s 2017 figure is about $4.9 million, fourth in the state and an increase from $3.7 million.

Susquehanna ($5.9 million) and Bradford ($5.1 million) rank second and third. Butler County ($2.1 million) is seventh.

“The gas industry undergoes peaks and valleys, and it’s great to see the county on an uptick again,” said Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober. “It’s a big benefit for Washington and Greene counties. Production is up, which means jobs are increasing.

State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township, echoed those sentiments.

“This funding highlights the significance of the natural gas industry in promoting our local economy,” she said in a release. “Impact fee revenues support numerous projects throughout the region, and these improvements are another reminder of the importance of supporting the responsible development of our natural resources without saddling the industry with crippling regulations or onerous new taxes.”

Five communities in Greene and Washington counties are among the top six municipal recipients. Center ($1,217,302) and Morris townships ($996,748), in Greene, are one-two; Amwell Township, in Washington County, is third ($865,184); and Greene’s Franklin Township ($852,515) is fourth. Cumberland Township, in Greene, is sixth at $799,535.

Washington also had the highest well count among counties at 1,654, followed by Susquehanna (1,386), Bradford (1,270) and Greene (1,236). Center was second among Pennsylvania municipalities with 238, 10 behind Cummings in Lycoming County. Morris (178) was fourth.

Among producers, Range Resources Appalachia paid the most in impact fees ($31.7 million), followed by EQT Production Co. ($23.2 million).

David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents about 200 natural gas-related companies involved in drilling and supply-chain companies, touted a tax that generated about $1.5 billion in revenue during its existence. He said in a prepared statement:

“Pennsylvania’s impact fee – a special drilling tax that is paid on top of all other business taxes assessed in the commonwealth – is working as designed by enabling local governments to direct how the revenues are utilized. The tax revenues collected from the natural gas industry support local bridge, road and other critical infrastructure improvements, as well as community parks, first responders, soil and water conservation districts, environmental projects and housing initiatives.”