About 700 people attended a meeting in Bradford County Wednesday night where state and local officials urged them to contact legislative leaders in Harrisburg about a bill aimed at ensuring gas companies pay fair royalties.
For years people in the region have complained some drilling companies charge exorbitant, and possibly fraudulent fees for processing gas– leaving landowners with little to no royalty money. In some cases, people have received notices their royalty account has a negative balance, saying they owe thousands of dollars to drilling companies.
“It’s what I call ‘the great royalty rip-off,’” says Bradford Commissioner Daryl Miller (R).
Wednesday’s meeting comes less than a week after the county announced it was hiring a public relations firm to draw attention to the issue. The county plans to spend $15,000 to create a video to tell the stories of landowners who feel they’ve been cheated. Ironically, the campaign will be funded by gas royalties the county has received from leasing public land.
The county wants the state legislature to pass HB 1391, which is aimed at clarifying a 1979 state law, which requires drillers to a pay a minimum 12.5 percent royalty. Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) is the prime sponsor.
“We need your help to get [this bill] over the goal line,” Everett told the crowd.
The royalty complaints have gotten worse as the price of gas has dropped, but Everett says that’s no reason to shortchange landowners.
“I tell the industry all the time, ‘Don’t screw our constituents so you can make money. Just don’t sell the gas right now.’”
Last week Wilmot Township, in Bradford County passed a symbolic resolution calling for a halt to all gas production, due to the royalty problems. The township supervisors say they are now planning to purchase billboard ads around Harrisburg in the coming weeks to pressure the legislature.
The gas industry has lobbied against HB 1391 and a previous royalties bill, arguing the measures would unconstitutionally alter the terms of existing lease contracts.