The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 9, 2012

Wozniak defends his support of drilling bill

Kathy Mellott

— State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, one of only seven Democrats to support the Marcellus Shale legislation adopted this week, said the bill protects the environment and provides help to local communities impacted by the natural gas drilling.

But local Democrats in the House said the initiative strips communities of any control and shortchanges Pennsylvania of billions of dollars through a severance fee, which is the lowest in the nation.

The House, voting 101-90, passed the bill Wednesday while the Senate one day earlier approved it in a 31-19 vote.

It is now headed to the desk of Gov. Tom Corbett, who is expected to sign the bill. The legislation has been three years in the making.

“We can sit here and rattle our sabers all we want, but the Marcellus Shale industry is creating a lot of jobs. They are generating a lot of revenue,” Wozniak said Thursday.

State Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, voted against the bill.

“I looked at all the points and said the ‘balance is bad,’ ” Barbin said. “It fails to get us where we need to be.”

Barbin, who also voted against a House bill in 2010, viewed by some as going too far, especially with the proposed impact fee, said he was hoping for something between the two.

Barbin’s greatest concerns are: Not enough steps to protect wells and water sources; not enough money targeted to help the state cover Marcellus-related costs; and too little incentive for natural gas refueling stations.

The bill, expected to generate less than $200 million annually to be split among all the players, provides $10 million annually for development of natural gas fueling facilities when one fueling facility costs $1 million, Barbin said.

Wozniak is urging a look at the big picture – the economic impact has been significant and far outweighs the benefits of any drilling fee.

While drilling is just getting started in the Cambria-Somerset region, the impact is felt through increased manufacturing jobs including storage tanks and truck tank production in both counties.

Wozniak said the eastern end of his district, which stretches to Clinton County, has areas such as Lock Haven seeing a “tremendous amount of drilling.”

The rich Marcellus Shale and its impact on the economy is just the point, said state Rep., Gary Haluska, D-Patton, and Jessie White, D-Washington.

An argument by many supporting the legislation is a concern that a higher fee would impede the industry and slow down drilling, a nonsensical approach, Haluska said.

“The gas is here. The drillers aren’t going to Texas to drill our gas,” he said.

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