State's Marcellus Shale drilling fee miscalculated

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HARRISBURG -- Implementation of the state's new Marcellus Shale gas drilling law has hit more obstacles, with officials saying they miscalculated how much some towns will receive in new fees and a state judge ordering a halt to ongoing ordinance reviews.

Gov. Tom Corbett and the state Public Utility Commission announced last week how the $204 million raised this fall from Pennsylvania's first round of the new per-well drilling impact fee would be distributed.

That assessment charged energy companies $50,000 for each horizontal well drilled here and $10,000 for shallower vertical wells.

But the commission said Friday it did not properly calculate the portion of the distribution formula that allocates dollars to towns based on how many wells are located within five miles of its borders.

The error was identified after some towns asked the commission to double-check their portion, PUC spokesman Jennifer Kocher said.

"We apologize for any delay and inconvenience," she said in a statement. "All impact fee disbursements will still be made prior to the legislative deadline of Dec. 1."

She said the commission does not have a count on how many towns may see their share of the drilling fee change.

Officials will be working around the clock to determine which towns are not affected, with plans to mail those checks immediately, she added.

In addition to the drilling fee, the state law approved in February, known as Act 13, also overhauled environmental regulations and created zoning standards for gas drilling.

The zoning portion was challenged in state court, where a Commonwealth Court panel halted one section of the zoning changes. Two other sections related to local drilling rules were not overturned, and the PUC had begun reviewing local ordinances to see if they complied with the new guidelines.

Commonwealth Court Judge Keith Quigley ruled Thursday the July decision halting part of that law prevented state officials from performing any reviews of local drilling ordinances.

Attorneys for the towns involved in that lawsuit -- including South Fayette in Allegheny County and Cecil, Robinson, Mount Pleasant and Peters in Washington County -- said the decision means the PUC's move to deny four towns their share of the fee due to pending ordinance reviews was improper.

region - marcellusshale

Harrisburg bureau chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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