I think it's telling that when Gov. Tom Corbett tweeted about the Marcellus Shale impact fee last week, he used the cumulative two-year total, not 2012 alone.
"GREAT news: Marcellus Shale Impact Fee has brought in more than $400 million dollars for PA communities in its first two years," read the news from @GovernorCorbett.
Well, is that great news? Maybe so, but the awkward fact is, 2012 brought in less money than 2011 — $198 million versus $204 million — even though drillers extracted a trillion cubic feet more of shale gas, roughly twice what they produced in 2011.
The impact fee is structured so that shale gas producers pay less when prices are low. And prices have been very low for quite a while now.
Drillers extracted twice the gas because they drilled more wells, built more pipelines, more processing stations — in short, had more impact. Probably not twice as much impact, but more impact. Which is what the impact fee is supposed to address. But there's less of it this year.
More impact. Less impact fee.
I haven't seen any commentary to that effect yet. But as the gubernatorial campaign continues its long march toward November 2014, I suspect that will change.
Marcellus Shale Coalition Executive CEO Kathryn Klaber released a statement on the impact fee revenue. Here it is in full:
"This is more exciting news for the Commonwealth, with literally every Pennsylvanian benefiting from responsible Marcellus development. These funds, in addition to the hundreds of millions in natural gas-related tax revenue, are ensuring that critical projects and investments will continue across the state, regardless of where natural gas production occurs. It's also a stark reminder that these benefits should not be tempered by policies that discourage safe, tightly-regulated natural gas development, especially as it relates to local zoning."
As it happens, I was exploring the Public Utility Commission's new website on the impact fee when the administration's announcement on the 2012 numbers came out.
I have to say, I like the website, which the agency unveiled last week. In a statement, PUC Chairman Robert Powelson billed it as "an interactive, searchable resource" that anyone can use to see how much impact fee money was collected, where it was distributed and how the amounts were calculated.
There's data on drillers and tables showing how the impact fee is calculated based on natural gas prices and wells' years in service.
The heart of the website is this map. Click on a county and you get a table showing its impact fee allocations. On each county page is a table of municipalities; click one and you get a local breakdown. The data is for 2011; the 2012 allocations haven't been made yet.
Clicking on Bradford County, I learned it had 949 eligible wells as of 2011, entitling it to $8.4 million ($8,375,502.10, if you want to be exact). Its municipalities got an additional $1.57 million in each of four categories, for an additional $6.28 million. (I thought the four listings referred to the same disbursement, given that they're equal down to the last penny, but a PUC spokeswoman assured me they are four separate allocations.)
Contrast that with Cumberland County, which is outside the Marcellus Shale area and has no wells at all. It received just under $200,000 for 2011 under a provision of Act 13 that gives all Pennsylvania counties some impact fee money for environmental programs.
I imagine I'll be dipping into this data resource quite a lot from now on.