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Environment & Energy

Westmoreland County Okays Impact Fee

Westmoreland County Commissioners have agreed to divide the revenue from impact fees on 191 Marcellus Shale gas wells among all municipalities in the county.

Pennsylvania legislators passed a bill in February overhauling the state's natural gas drilling laws.

Under the impact fee law, elected officials in counties that have shale gas wells have until mid-April to enact a fee or choose not to collect. If the county officials refuse the fee, municipalities have 60 days to override the decision.

The legislation restricts municipal zoning of drilling operations. If a county adopts the impact fee, they must accept drilling in all types of zones except densely-populated residential areas.

County Commissioner Tyler Courtney said the amount of money the county will get is based on how many other counties elect the impact fee.

"Right now, early estimates, based on the counties that we are factoring will be involved with the impact fee, should be in excess of two million dollars," Courtney said.

The Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) administers collecting and distributing the fee.

Courtney said the municipalities that will be receiving money will be based on how many wells they have within their boundaries.

"Obviously protecting the citizens and doing it safely and responsibly for the environment, in a developed area, is much more difficult," said Courtney. "So a lot of the outlying areas have seen more development of the shale gas, and therefore the impact fees will be higher for those townships and municipalities."

Courtney said the county hasn't started evaluating how the money can be used due to guidelines in the legislation but a portion must be used for road and bridge repairs and parks projects. He said the county is thinking about converting the Westmoreland Transit Authority's fleet to run on natural gas.

"Given that low nature of these (natural) gas prices right now, a gas equivalent would be about 70 cents, between 70 cents and a dollar a gallon of diesel. Which diesel right now is over four dollars," said Courtney. "So you can see the enormous savings for the county if we were able to do that."

Commissioners in Butler and Washington Counties have already approved the impact fee.