Tax or not, Marcellus Shale drilling is costing Pennsylvania

A rig drilling an oil well for QEP Resources Inc., is shown on ranchland a few miles west of Cheyenne, Wyo., Thursday Sept. 30, 2010. More oil rigs are popping up around Cheyenne and some new wells 50 miles north of town might already be producing oil from the Niobrara Shale. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has issued permits for more than 50 oil wells in northern Laramie County and southern Goshen and Platte counties so far this year. Dozens of those wells are now marked "confidential" on the production information page on the commission website. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

State lawmakers agreed back in July to pass a tax on natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale by October 1st. They failed to meet that self-imposed deadline, and now it's looking likely that nothing will happen on the tax until after November because the State House has adjourned for the election.

That's bad news because the state desperately needs new sources of revenue. It's also mind-boggling because companies mining in the Marcellus Shale are taking a huge toll on Pennsylvania's infrastructure.

We'll start in Derry Township, where the large trucks used by natural gas drillers are tearing up newly paved roads.

With three wells completed for Marcellus Shale drilling and 30 more planned, Derry Township supervisors say they're concerned about damage done to roads by heavy equipment. On Thursday morning, the supervisors took state Sen. Kim Ward on a walking tour of damaged streets -- including Superior Road, which they say was paved last year but has large ruts and piles of gravel today.  

There are other problems outside of Derry. The state police have taken 140 trucks, mostly used by natural gas drillers, out of service statewide because they failed inspection. The increased enforcement is a response to the large number of vehicles inundating roads in regions with a lot of drilling.

Out in Tioga County, the Department of Environmental Protection has issued a $40,000 fine to a drilling company for several violations.  

DEP inspected the Bloss Township, Tioga County, site in March and found that Seneca Resources Corp. of Brookville had filled nearly one acre of “exceptional value” wetland without authorization, improperly built an impoundment, and caused sediment runoff by failing to institute erosion control best management practices.

What do all these incidents have in common? They're examples of how state and local government have been forced to respond to the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling, even though the legislature has failed to pass a severance tax to generate revenue to pay for these responses. Clearly, the impact of drilling is real. Without the proper resources, it's impossible for government agencies across Pennsylvania to ensure the industry does more good than harm.

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