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PA Gubernatorial Candidates’ Stances on Shale Gas Drilling and Regulations

In one week, Pennsylvania voters will take to the polls to choose their next governor. As the Republican incumbent, Governor Tom Corbett faces a major opponent in Democratic candidate Tom Wolf to secure his seat. Among the many issues debated throughout each candidate’s campaign, shale gas drilling remains an important topic for Commonwealth citizens.

Since Pennsylvania sits on the Marcellus Shale formation—one of the largest natural gas deposits in the world—its resources are extremely valuable to current and potential energy company investors, landowners, and the Commonwealth’s economy. Both Corbett and Wolf have expressed their stance on the major issues dealing with shale gas and what the industry means for the growth of the state.

Currently, Corbett stands behind Act 13 (Impact Fee), which that he signed into law on February 14, 2012. Act 13/Impact Fee amends Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes and provides for the imposition of an unconventional gas well fee (or impact fee), as well as the distribution of those funds to local and state governments. Since 2012, millions of dollars in impact fees have been gathered from Marcellus Shale well operators and distributed to nearly 200 projects across the state.

On top of the enacted Act 13/Impact Fee law, Wolf proposes a 5% severance tax to oil and gas companies for shale gas drilling. The candidate cites other states where gas extraction is taking place (e.g., Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Wyoming) and a severance fee is being charged to energy companies in order to provide revenue to state and local budgets. Wolf plans to take the funds collected from the proposed 5% fee and invest them to fund key state priorities such as schools, roads, renewable energy technology, and economic development.

In a recent Marcellus Quarterly magazine article covering the two candidates’ stances on shale gas drilling regulation, Corbett stated that his signing of Act 13/Impact Fees has “generated more than $630 million in new revenues, benefitting every community across [the] Commonwealth.” When questioned on other aspects of Act 13, specifically municipality rights to determine if and where shale drilling will occur, Corbett remained committed to the Act 13 consensus. He responded that while land use under Act 13 is left up to local governments, Commonwealth officials “will continue to work closely with local government leadership and its members, as well as the job-creators who are investing their limited capital resources in the state, to strike the appropriate balance Pennsylvanians deserve and expect.”

In conjunction with his proposed 5% severance tax fund allocations, Wolf states on his campaign website that he aims to establish responsible drilling for the Pennsylvania environment. Wolf’s steps for ensuring responsible drilling are as follows:

  1. Increase funding for the Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] so that it is sufficiently staffed and able to provide proper oversight of drillers.
  2. Bring greater transparency to the fracking process by requiring drillers to publicly disclose chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, and lifting the current gag order on physicians.
  3. Allow local communities more control in zoning.

Another topic that has peaked questions from both candidates concerns improving the current pipeline infrastructure, particularly the pipeline structure that runs along southeast Pennsylvania. Opportunities for exporting shale gas, as well as natural gas liquids (NGL), have become increasingly appealing to fossil fuel investors, but many federal and state safety and security precautions must be considered in order to regulate any type of exportation. In Marcellus Quarterly, Wolf stated his support of pipeline expansion as long as the construction was environmentally safe. He also expressed that if and when the pipeline is developed, he would seek public opinion in the planning process in order “to strike a balance between private property rights and infrastructure development.”

In response to the same topic, Corbett noted that developing the pipeline infrastructure is integral to sustaining the growth of shale gas resources. The Governor stated that “initiatives such as [his] Permit Decision Guarantee for DEP permits demonstrates that [his administration] can balance the obligation to protect [Pennsylvania’s] natural resources and local communities.”

Both Corbett and Wolf offer their own solutions to current shale gas issues. It is now up to voters to decide which candidate offers the most viable solution for Pennsylvania’s environment and economy.

Additional Links

Act 13(Impact Fees) – http://www.puc.state.pa.us/filing_resources/issues_laws_regulations/act_13_impact_fee_.aspx

Pennsylvania Counties Benefit from Act 13 Impact Fees – http://www.rkrhess.com/pennsylvania-counties-benefit-from-act-2013-impact-fee/

Pattak, Evan, “Corbett vs. Wolf: Pennsylvania’s Gubernatorial Candidates Detail Their Agendas on Marcellus Development,” Marcellus Quarterly. http://content.yudu.com/Library/A32gng/MarcellusQuarterlySH/resources/index.htm

Governor Corbett’s campaign webpage on Marcellus Shale issues: http://www.tomcorbettforgovernor.com/energy

Tom Wolf’s campaign webpage on Marcellus Shale issues: http://www.wolfforpa.com/sections/page/marcellus-shale

Tom Wolf’s “A Fresh Start” policy plan with in-depth description of 5% severance tax, page 40 – http://b.3cdn.net/tomwolf/28dc8311d9bc153b07_uabm6br2y.pdf

More information on natural gas liquids (NGL): http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=5930&src=email