Although the dogs are still barking in Pennsylvania, the caravan for imposing a fee on natural gas drillers in the most active shale gas state appears to be moving forward.

“The Senate passed a bill. The House passed a bill. Now it’s time to work together, and I think that we will get a bill that’s acceptable to all parties — not what everybody wants, but one that’s acceptable to all parties,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said Monday. There’s no safe bet on whether that will happen before the legislators leave for the holidays in mid-December, or in the new year.

While the bills on the two sides of the state legislature aimed at the drilling of unconventional natural gas wells contain similar environmental safeguards and local control provisions, they differ on the amount of the impact fee to be charged and on whether the state or counties collect and disburse the revenue, according to formulas that are still a question mark.

And there still is opposition to imposing any fee at all, with that opposition coming not from the gas industry, but from anti-tax zealots. Just before the House vote, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, published an open letter to the Pennsylvania General Assembly calling its proposal a tax. “Just look at where the money goes and it is easy to see that it does not pass the laugh test when it comes to trying to claim this as a fee,” Norquist wrote.

“I guess we have a difference of opinion,” Corbett said Monday, arguing that the fee only covers the impacts of development and doesn’t increase state revenues. The governor’s position is backed by surveys that show Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly in favor of collecting a fee.

By passing the bills, lawmakers pushed past their concerns about violating Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, freeing them to negotiate a final bill, according to David Hess, a lobbyist with Crisci Associates and former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (see Shale Daily, May 27).

“I’m hoping there’s going to be an outbreak of common sense here,” Hess told NGI’s Shale Daily, noting that the two houses, both dominated by Republicans, should be able to reach consensus.

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