Debbie Wachter Morris
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
A Slippery Rock Township landowner with a gas lease fears a county impact fee will drive drillers away.
Robert Henry and his wife, Norma, were among several people offering comments and asking questions yesterday about a proposed impact fee on unconventional natural gas wells in the county.
Following the public hearing, the commissioners unanimously adopted an ordinance to impose the fee, despite a plea from Carrie Hahn of Fayette, Wilmington Township, to take more time to study the newly enacted state law.
The ordinance is in response to state Act 13 of 2013, which allows counties to enact impact fees on unconventional gas wells. The law also imposes statewide regulations and environmental controls on drilling.
Commissioners statewide have 60 days from the act’s passage — Feb. 14 — to enact impact fee ordinances for their respective counties in order to collect a percentage of money from gas wells that existed in 2011.
About 20 people attended the hearing.
The Henrys have signed a lease with Shell Oil Co. on their Center Church Road property in Slippery Rock Township.
Initially, they were told a well would be drilled this year, Henry said, but now Shell says there will be no drilling there this year at all. He said the company gave no reason.
“I know they are scaling back here,” he said.
He said after the hearing that the company did preliminary work on the property, water testing and environmental studies.
“They were to start building a road and a pad in December, but they just kept moving it back,” Henry said.
They moved it back to January, then the couple received an e-mail last week saying Shell is not going to do their well this year.
“They said maybe later on, maybe,” Norma Henry said.
The impact fee is not connected with that decision, Kimberly Windon, a Shell spokeswoman said yesterday afternoon, noting that a public presentation by Shell in Ellwood City recently had listed the Henry farm as a backup well site.
Don Dickinson of Washington Township echoed Hahn’s concerns about rushing into an ordinance.
“This isn’t your money,” he said. “This isn’t the state’s money. This belongs to the people.
“I think it’s easy for the commissioners to grab at the carrot that shale has dangled,” he said, adding that generally speaking, “politicians and bureaucrats are not good custodians of our money.”
He suggested the commissioners sit down with the gas company representatives and “think outside of the box,” and possibly get them to set up a trust fund for the county in lieu of an impact fee ordinance.
“Why take in 60 percent (of the impact fees) when you can have 100 percent?” he said. Forty percent of any county-approved fee goes to state coffers.
Commissioner Dan Vogler responded that the commissioners have had three or four meetings with Shell Oil Co. and invited the economic development corporation and the chamber of commerce executive directors.
The commissioners “made a pitch” to Shell and offered the company local office space with less traffic congestion and lower costs.
However, the company has opened its local offices on New Butler Road.
“We tried to roll out the welcome mats for them, and they aren’t the only company we’ve met with either,” Vogler said.
The public and the media were not included in those meetings.
WHAT’S THE RUSH?
Jack Carlson of Slippery Rock Township, former owner of Carlson Mining, said he has leased his land for drilling.
He pointed out that the Patterson well in Little Beaver Township has the capacity to generate 9 milllion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
He wonders whether the drilling companies will continue drilling wells here if they are charged impact fees, he said.
Vogler said that the county through the ordinance would realize $21,000 the first year for the two wells already drilled on the Patterson site. That is the county’s portion of 36 percent of the 60 percent it would receive the first year.
Hahn, who represents a citizens group called The Fracking Truth Alliance of Lawrence County, asked why the commissioners are moving so quickly to vote on the ordinance.
“Even a 60-day window is not long enough,” she said.
She urged the commissioners to postpone their decision until the municipalities all have a chance to study it.