The backer of a bid to hike the severance tax levied on natural gas producers operating in Arkansas last week submitted 69,717 signatures to a petition to get the initiative placed on the November ballot. Former gas utility executive Sheffield Nelson needed to gather 62,507 signatures. The signatures gathered have not yet been reviewed and could be challenged. Nelson wants to hike the severance tax to 7% from the current range of 1.25-5%. His opponents include energy industry members as well as the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce and anti-tax hike group Arkansas for Jobs and Affordable Energy. Nelson, a Republican who was a chairman of Arkla Inc. and a two-time gubernatorial candidate, is the leader of the Committee for a Fair Severance Tax (see Shale Daily, June 29).