PF&BC gets a cut of gas fee

Harrisburg — The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is in the money.

Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed Marcellus shale impact fee legislation that will collect $180.5 million statewide in fees for drilling activity done in 2011 and as much as $355 million in 2015, according to some estimates from Republican lawmakers.

The commission will get a share of that – albeit a smaller share than it hoped.

The agency will get $1 million annually from those collected fees. It will be used to pay staff who assist with permit reviews for new drilling site proposals and, perhaps, for law enforcement work related to pollution incidents tied to wells, said commission Executive Director John Arway.

The commission is “appreciative” to be getting the funding, he said. There was a lot of competition for a share of the revenue, he added.

But it’s not as much as the commission wanted, or really needs, he said.

“It’s going to help us do our job better. But it doesn’t really get us to where we need to be,” Arway said. “As drilling increases, we would need more money.”

Under a couple of early versions of impact fee legislation, the commission would have received a percentage, up to 2 percent, of all money collected.

Revisions changed that to suggest the commission get $1.5 million to $2 million annually, the amount the agency estimated was needed to hire 13 to 17 people to review 5,000 new well permit applications each year and inspect and monitor them.

It won’t be getting that much, but will have to make do, said Commissioner Tom Shetterly, of Charleroi.

“In a compromise, nobody’s happy. But you take what you can get while you look for something better,” Shetterly said.

“We’re glad to get that. It’s a costly situation.”

Arway said the commission’s goal remains to hire staff. Though he’s not sure how many people that will be, adding employees are critical, he said.

“Really to do justice to estimating impacts [of proposed wells], you need boots on the ground. That’s the intent. This will give us more confidence in making sure that these sites aren’t in sensitive areas or near high-quality streams or wetlands,” Arway said.

The new employees will allow other staff – including everyone from clerks to conservation officers – to get back to their “regular” jobs servicing anglers and boaters, he added.

There will still be challenges, though. Many waterways conservation officers in the southwest, northcentral and northeast regions of the state have been spending the majority of their time on Marcellus issues, Shetterly noted. The commission has trained a number of new officers over the last few years in an attempt to ease that burden, but has barely kept up with retirements, he said.

Arway said the commission’s hope of getting up to $2 million annually would have allowed the agency to perhaps pay for additional law enforcement. That’s not necessarily covered under the amount the agency will be getting, though.

Arway said the commission is still looking for ways to address that issue. Whether this legislation is the answer in whole or part remains to be seen, he said.

“We’re not going to stop investigating water pollution. We’re going to continue to be very aggressive on that front,” Arway said.

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