Washington and Greene counties will receive $14.4 million in total this year from impact fees paid by shale gas drillers with Fayette County receiving $1.2 million.
Those allotments were part of $251.8 million handed out under Act 13, the 2012 overhaul to the state oil and gas law, according to numbers recently released by the state Public Utility Commission.
Pennsylvania does not levy a severance tax on oil and gas, but – to offset the effects of industry on local infrastructure and services – assesses an impact fee on eligible fracking wells and distributes the money to counties and municipalities based on how many wells they host.
Local and county governments can use the money for purposes that include roads, storm and sewer infrastructure, emergency services and affordable housing programs.
Fayette’s 2018 allotment, $1,239,190, marks a rise from 2017 ($1,027,625), 2016 ($872,846) and 2015 ($1,056,698), but is less than the 2014 high of $1,327,202.
Still, officials are thankful for whatever influx comes into the county’s coffers.
“I think Act 13 has really helped Fayette County since its inception,” said Commissioner Vincent Vicites.
In Fayette, Vicites said the Act 13 money has helped the county modernize its 911 system, bringing it from analog to digital. The project included a seven-year commitment to pay $800,000 yearly for the $7.5 million project.
“That has benefited everyone county wide,” Vicites said, adding when the two years remaining to pay for the upgrade are done, the funding will help make a further impact.
Washington and Greene counties will receive $8.4 million and $6 million, respectively, from the impact fees, making them among the counties receiving the largest share in the state.
Last year, $7.3 million in impact fees went to Washington and $4.9 million went to Greene.
Of the 9,560 wells eligible for the fees last year, 1,655 were in Washington – more than any other county in the state – and another 1,184 were in Greene, which had the third highest number.
The number of eligible wells statewide this year exceeds last year’s count, 8,518, by more than 1,000. The increase in wells contributed to a roughly $33.4 million jump in fee revenue statewide.
Municipal and county governments directly affected by drilling will receive a total of $134.7 million. Another $89.8 million will go to the Marcellus Legacy Fund, which provides money for environmental, highway, water, sewer and other projects throughout the state.
Vicites said the legacy fund has helped the county with its farmland preservation and work on the Sheepskin Trail, and the Act 13 bridge fund has helped fund local bridge projects.
In Fayette County, the municipality that brought in the most Act 13 from money was Luzerne Township at $307,452 as the township hosts 55 wells subject to the impact fee.
The municipality that brought in the least was Ohiopyle Borough at $1,109 because the borough has no wells subject to an impact fee. The borough receives some money because it is within five linear miles of a spud unconventional well subject to the impact fee and has a population of 57, which is 4% of the county’s population.
A final $18.4 million will flow to state agencies involved in regulating the industry.
Of the money being doled out this year, $8.9 million comes from fees at issue in litigation that prompted the state Supreme Court to rule in December that certain so-called “stripper wells” were in fact eligible for the fees.
Washington received $123,000 based on the ruling, Greene received $180,000 and Fayette received $7,259.33.
Washington and Greene counties are also home to the only four municipalities in the state that will each get more than $1 million. Those were Greene’s Center, Morris and Franklin township, plus Washington’s Amwell Township.
The top two well operators paying the fees were Range Resources – $32.7 million – and EQT, which paid $24.8 million.
Reporter Gideon Bradshaw contributed to this report.