FILE - Natural gas pipeline

A natural gas pipeline under construction in rural Pennsylvania.

(The Center Square) – A decline in the price of natural gas has forced a substantial decrease in the disbursement of impact fees to Pennsylvania municipalities, the Public Utilities Commission revealed this week.

More than $200 million will be paid out to communities, counties and state agencies from 2019’s revenue, the PUC said. But that amount is tens of millions down about 20 percent from the 2018 numbers.

“This year’s distribution is approximately $42.6 million lower than last year, driven primarily by the average price of natural gas in 2019 ($2.63 per MMBtu) versus the average price in 2018 ($3.09 per MMBtu) which caused a lower impact fee payment for each well in 2019,” the PUC wrote in a news release.

The largest portion of the disbursement goes to counties and municipalities, with $109 million earmarked for local governments. Impact fees go to support the economies and fund infrastructure improvements in the areas where the drilling takes place, unlike Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed severance tax, which would be used to fund projects statewide.

The next biggest chunk is about $73 million to the Marcellus Legacy Fund, which, according to the Department of Community and Economic Development, goes toward “statewide initiatives that will include abandoned mine drainage abatement; abandoned well plugging; sewage treatment; greenways, trails and recreation; baseline water quality data; watershed restoration; and flood control.”

About $8 million is to be shared by the State Conservation Commission and county conservation districts; $6 million goes to the Department of Environmental Protection; $1 million each goes to the Fish and Boat Commission, the PUC and the Department of Transportation; and $750,000 each to the state Emergency Management Agency and the Office of State Fire Commissioner.

Pennsylvania lawmakers who represent areas getting significant impact fee disbursements praised the program for sending the money to the communities from which the natural gas was extracted,

“The impact fee plays a vital role in helping our communities address the impacts of drilling while also benefiting from the jobs the industry creates,” said Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Tioga, whose district, which also stretches into Bradford and Potter counties, is poised to receive $15.4 million. “I am pleased to see this funding coming back home instead of being doled out by Harrisburg.”

Rep. Tina Pickett, a Republican whose district includes Bradford, Sullivan and Susquehanna counties, noted her communities are set to get about $21.2 million.

“Act 13 continues to pay significant dividends for our local communities as drilling companies assist with the consequences of their activities,” Pickett said. “In addition to the impact fees, the natural gas industry remains an important job generator for the local economy and should remain so many more years to come.”

Regional Editor

Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.