Not a moment too soon, Gov. Corbett and Republican legislative leaders finally are facing up to the task of making Pennsylvania’s natural-gas drillers pay more toward their fair share.
With a second round of state spending cuts expected Tuesday in Corbett’s annual budget address, it would look worse than ever had the state remained the only major gas-producing state without a tax on gas drilling. So, it represents progress even by Harrisburg’s minimal standards that lawmakers report broad agreement on a plan to impose an impact fee that could raise up to $355,000 per well over a 15-year period.
Hold the applause, however. The levy could bring in considerably less, since it will be pegged to natural-gas prices already on a downward slide. Even at full throttle, the fee would be among the nation’s lowest — bringing in easily less than half what per-well taxes yield in West Virginia and Texas, for instance.
On key environmental concerns, the plan also appears to favor drillers. Even though the chemical-laced hydraulic fracturing drilling process poses a potential threat to drinking water supplies, and the noise and other congestion from drilling ought to be regulated as with other industries, the state would allow drillers to sidestep local planning rules with an appeal to Harrisburg. That provision caused a mini-revolt in GOP ranks, but Corbett appears to have held fast to the spurious notion that, without special handling, drillers will pull their rigs out of the state’s rich Marcellus Shale formation.