Shale Commission Angered Over Setbacks

Nov 3, 2011

Two Marcellus Shale Impact Fee bills are under fire for the buffer zones between gas wells and water supplies. The Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission argued the measures don't go far enough to protect water sources.

A 61-page amendment to Senate Bill 1100, approved by the Appropriations Committee unanimously, calls for increased penalties on drillers who violate regulations and broadens buffer zones or setbacks between natural gas wells and water sources. The measure requires a 1,000 foot setback from private water wells and 500 feet away from public water supplies.

House Bill 1950 includes setbacks of 500 feet from existing water wells or buildings without the owner's consent, and 1,000 feet from surface water intake, reservoirs, and other sources owned by a water purveyor.

Sharon Ward, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said that those are not enough. "The Citizens Commission would recommend that no well be drilled within 3,000 feet of either of those," said Ward. "And that's really based on results from the Duke University study indicating that you could have methane migration much farther than 1,000 feet."

Ward expressed concern over how much municipalities would be able to regulate the industry. She said that when the Citizens Commission heard from people, they learned that citizens want to make their own decisions about what is best for their community.

The Senate bill would allow a "model ordinance" which would bar any township passing regulations that went further than the statewide standard from receiving impact fee income. While the House bill strips municipalities from regulating drilling and drilling related activities.

She said that the Senate is doing a good job at driving a hard bargain with gas companies, but "Governor Corbett's gas drilling plan is really a token and will not provide Pennsylvanians with the revenue they need to ensure that drillers are taxed fairly."

Corbett's plan would place a $40,000 fee on wells during their first year of production. In the second and third years the number would drop to $30,000 and then $20,000. From years four to ten, companies would pay $10,000 per well. 75% of the revenue from those taxes would go to local counties, which would split it between municipalities with wells, without wells, and county governments. But it would be up to individual counties to impose the fees.