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October 16, 2012

How much cash is gas drilling bringing to your municipality?

— The state Public Utility Commission wants county and municipal officials looking for their share of the Marcellus Shale impact fee to know that the check is in the mail.

Or at least it will be in the mail by the end of the month, said PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.

“(The money) will be available in about two weeks,” Kocher said.

Cambria County can expect to receive just more than $166,000 for this first year of the drilling impact fee, while Somerset County stands to receive just less than $180,700.

Each of the 63 townships and boroughs in Cambria County and the 50 in Somerset County will receive some money from the fee, though the amount will be minimal for the smallest municipalities that host no Marcellus wells.

A handful of others will see greater benefit.

The big winner in Cambria is Adams Township, which stands to gain just more than $29,300, while in Somerset County, Addison

Township comes out on top with $38,800, according to a spreadsheet posted on the PUC’s website Monday.

The payment is greater than Cambria officials anticipated.

“I am tickled pink that we are at $166,000. We initially thought it would be less than $50,000,” Cambria County President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said.

The money has been paid to the PUC by the oil companies over the past several months and is being distributed based on a per well formula outlined in Act 13 and adopted by the state legislature in February.

Initial estimates of the well fee were $190 million, but as of the September deadline, the oil companies payed in about $204.4 million, Kocher said.

The impact fee law, a significant revision of the state’s Oil and Gas Act of 1984, criticized by environmentalists and hailed by the shale gas industry, stipulates that $25.5 million go to statewide conservation and environmental initiatives.

Of the remaining nearly $180 million, 60 percent will go to local governments and counties with Marcellus wells and the remainder split by non-well host counties based on population and proximity to the wells.

The act also includes about a dozen areas on how county and local governments can spend the well impact money. The list runs the gamut from roads to water, emergency preparedness to social and judicial services.

In Cambria, the discussion on how to spend the money goes on, with support for efforts to begin improvements on Route 219 north in the Carrolltown area.

PennDOT has proposed improving a secondary road to Patton and making improvements to Route 36 north to the Clearfield County line to pull some through traffic from Northern Cambria.

Also on the table are other attempts to help with bridges and highways, Lengenfelder said.

How the funds will be disbursed in Somerset County has not been decided, but minority Commissioner Joe Betta said he will try to have it designated for areas affected by the industry.

“We haven’t decided it yet, but I want to see it cover any negative impact in Somerset County as a result of the drilling,” he said.

The disbursements to county and local governments are an example of the positive impact the unconventional natural gas is having on Pennsylvania, said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

“The natural gas industry across the commonwealth is indeed a true partnership with county and local governments,” Klaber said in an email.

“These revenues are being directed to each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties regardless of where natural gas operations are taking place.”

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