The state House passed a sweeping Marcellus Shale bill that will allow county-wide impact fees but restrict the amount of local zoning control for municipal governments.
The bill, which passed Wednesday afternoon on a nearly partisan 101-90 vote, now awaits Gov. Tom Corbett's signature after the Senate passed a similar version earlier this week.
The House bill would allocate a local impact fee that fluctuates with the price of natural gas and on the rate of inflation. Counties will decide whether to impose a fee, and if they refuse, a majority of municipalities would be able to impose it countywide.
Sixty percent of the fee revenue will go to local communities impacted by drilling. The local share will be divided this way:
- 37 percent for host municipalities
- 36 percent to host counties
- 27 percent to other municipalities in host counties.
The money would be used for local services from emergency preparedness to transportation infrastructure projects. Forty percent of the fee revenue will go toward statewide environmental projects, ranging from acid mine drainage remediation to recreation trails and highways.
The legislation included standardized, albeit somewhat flexible, zoning standards that allow municipalities to retain some control over zoning. Still many zoning rules that municipalities such as and passed recently are basically voided.
The bill requires shale wells to be 500 feet from occupied structures and water wells, and at least 1,000 feet from public drinking water sources. It also increases the setback distance from a shale gas well to a spring or body of water to 300 feet.
Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the bill is “imperfect and adds costs in an environment where gas prices are near historic lows,” but said he doubts anyone would be completely happy with any legislation. He said the key for the industry is having standardized zoning practices so the drillers don’t have different rules for every community.
“We don’t think it’s a perfect bill, but we think it’s three years in the making and has had ample input from environmental groups, local government officials and industry,” Pitzarella said. “It addressed concerns for the very vast majority of stakeholders for the vast majority of their issues.”
He pointed to the zoning setback that pushes drilling 500 feet away from structures, which is double the length that the current rules require. Still, many local communities have much father setback rules from schools and hospitals that will be superseded by this legislation.
“We think these are things that can be accommodated,” Pitzarella said. “People will take issue, but it’s legislation that helps the vast majority of people.”
But many of the Democrats who voted against the bill took exception with that characterization. , said that anyone who voted for the bill “will one day regret it.”
“For those who think this is a good deal—for what we got, the price was just too high,” he said minutes after the vote.
"This bill has no compromise," White said. "It was negotiated behind closed doors, without input from anyone who had a realistic view of challenges facing local communities—and topped off with half-hearted endorsements from local government and environmental groups who were pressured into supporting the bill against the wishes of their members to provide political cover."
, called it “a bad bill.” He said the House Democrats weren’t consulted on the legislation and only saw the final draft right before Wednesday’s vote.
“The governor was literally beating the Republicans with a rubber hose,” Kotik said. “They were pushing as hard as they could.”
Only two Democrats crossed the aisle to vote in favor of the bill. Several others, including Pete Daley, a Democrat who largely represents the Mon Valley, did not cast a vote.
“Were we just supposed to roll over and do whatever they want to do?” Kotik said. “We just decided not to go along and make our arguments against it.”
White said it’s the property owners who signed leases with natural gas drilling companies years ago that he said he feels sorry for. He said those residents signed leases under the assumption that “certain protections were in place only then to realize a lot of those protections were traded away.”