Invasive Species Spread in Fracking Areas of PA & WV

by Duane Nichols on August 16, 2017

Japanese stiltgrass spreading in WV & PA

Fracking is spreading invasive, non-native plants, Penn State researchers say

From an Article by Leon Valsechi, Centre Daily News, August 4, 2017

Researchers at Penn State have discovered in a recent study that Marcellus Shale fracking activity (adds to) the spread of invasive, non-native plant species.

The findings, published in July in the Journal of Environmental Management, are a result of research that began in 2012 and focused on 127 natural gas well pads on state forest land in the north-central part of the state.

Lead researcher Kathryn Barlow, a doctoral candidate in Penn State’s department of plant sciences, said the team found that 61 percent of the wells studied have at least one invasive, non-native plant species growing around the edges of the well pads or along the sides of the access roads.

Of the wells that are being colonized by invasive plants, 19 percent have more than one non-native plant, such as Japanese stiltgrass, reed canary grass and crown vetch, according to the study.

“We suspected that with any disturbance to a forest and human activity, there’s going to be spread of invasive plants, so it’s not surprising that we found them,” Barlow said. “But we felt that it would be important to quantify and better understand the colonization so far.”

As the research progressed, the team began discussions with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on a potential collaboration effort to advance the efforts of both parties to understand non-native plant behavior.

“These conversations led ultimately to a monitoring protocol that was adopted by both the bureau of forestry and Penn State,” Kelly Sitch, an ecologist at the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said in an email.

The protocol helps DCNR’s gas monitoring teams to track invasive plants on the 180 well pads, 28 freshwater impoundments, 17 compressor stations and 34 infrastructure pads located on state forest land, Sitch said.

In addition to tracking the plants using the survey protocol, Penn State analyzed the role fracking vehicle traffic plays in spreading the seeds.

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is the process of drilling into the earth and injecting fluid at high pressure into rock, fracturing the formation and releasing natural gas. To reach the desired well depth, about 1,200 one-way truck trips are required to deliver the fluid needed for the process, Barlow said.

The Penn State team measured how far the invasive plant seeds can blow based on the wind speed created by a passing vehicle. The team also discovered that the seeds can stick to the undercarriage of the vehicles, which Barlow said accelerated the spreading rate of the plant colonies.

While the study focused on fracking well pads and access roads, Sitch said the gas activity is not the lone propagation source of the invasive plants in the state forests.

“Any activity that results in the opening of the forest canopy or soil disturbance increases the likelihood of colonization by invasive plants,” Sitch said. “Certainly, as a result of the disturbance caused by Marcellus Shale-related construction, Penn State’s study has shown that invasive plants are spreading across many well pads.”

Invasive plants can grow and spread across sites quickly and displace native vegetation, Sitch said. In those areas, plant diversity is often reduced to one or two species. The ecosystem services provided by the once diverse collection of plants is lost, which creates a ripple effect for all other species in the forest habitat, he said.

Over the past decade, Barlow said the threat that fracking poses to an area’s water system has been well-covered, but as more research about the unintended consequences of natural gas extraction is published, a full understanding of the process is possible.

“It’s of course important to understand the impact on our water, but there’s been less emphasis on plant communities with this development,” Barlow said. “If plants are the foundation for what creates a habitat, I think the full story needs to be told.”

Tree of Heaven spreading wildly

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New book coming 12/26/17

Gas severance tax won’t have big impact in Pennsylvania, says researcher

From an Article by Marie Cusick, NPR StateImpact Pennsylvania, August 10, 2017

The severance tax recently approved by the PA state Senate is unlikely to have a major impact on drilling activity or government revenues, according to a researcher from an environmental economic think tank.

A natural gas severance tax has been a hot-button issue in Harrisburg for nearly a decade, but the plan recently approved by the PA state Senate is unlikely to have a major impact– either in terms of government revenue, or drilling company investment decisions, according to a researcher from the nonpartisan environmental economic think tank, Resources for the Future.

The severance tax is now in the GOP-controlled House where its future is uncertain. Republican legislative leaders have argued over the years it would harm the state’s economy. Yet passing the tax has been a major focus of Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

The tax rate approved by the Senate last month would change, based on the average annual price of natural gas– ranging from 1.5 cents per thousand cubic feet to 3.5 cents. It’s expected to raise $100 million this year to help plug a $2.2 billion budget hole. It would be added on top of the roughly $200 million in impact fees gas companies already pay, which are based on the number of wells they drill.

StateImpact Pennsylvania talked about the new tax measure with Daniel Raimi, a senior research associate at Resources for the Future and author of the forthcoming book, The Fracking Debate:

Q: There is so much rhetoric around what a severance tax could mean for Pennsylvania. Can you explain your recent research? What’s your take?

A: Over the last several years my colleague Richard Newell and I have looked really closely at oil and gas revenues that flow to states and local governments. We’ve looked at the top 16 oil and gas producing states in the U.S. What we find is the average state collects about seven percent of the value of oil and gas revenues. Either through severance taxes, or something like a severance tax, or through property taxes collected by local governments.

Pennsylvania’s lack of a property tax is unusual. That lowers costs for drillers.

For example, if there’s $1 million of oil and gas that comes out of the ground each year, that is taxed as property. It helps fund school districts, townships, county governments, and cities. In some states property taxes make up a larger share of government revenue than severance taxes.

Pennsylvania’s impact fee structure makes up for some of that shortfall by collecting revenue from oil and gas producers and allocating a large portion of it back to the local level. That means the state government doesn’t collect as much from oil and gas production as other states do.

Q: One of the big questions around the impact fee* is whether Pennsylvania is leaving money on the table. Are we?

A: That is a hard question to answer precisely. In short, the severance tax that’s been passed by the Senate is unlikely to have a large effect on either Pennsylvania government revenues, or investment decisions by oil and gas companies. It’s a small severance tax.

Other factors, such as oil and gas prices, access to infrastructure, like pipelines, and access to labor—those are all more important. If it were a severance tax of five, six, or seven percent, then maybe we’d be looking at large impacts, both in terms of the revenue for the government, and potentially deterring oil and gas investment. This severance tax would add something like 0.7 percent to the total revenue generated by natural gas production in Pennsylvania. That’s not enough to have a huge impact.

Looking back at 2015, if this severance tax had been in place it would have raised about $90 million for the state. That’s a lot of money for me and you, but in Pennsylvania that year total tax revenues were $35 billion. So, this type of severance tax would add about a quarter of a percent to state revenues.

Q: You’re using the Henry Hub natural gas spot price (in Louisiana) in your analysis. But don’t Pennsylvania gas producers often receive less?

A: That’s right. That’s a great question. Natural gas prices for producers in Pennsylvania have been lower than they are in other states. That’s primarily because of limited pipeline capacity to take the gas away to other markets.

But the severance tax proposal would use the price in Louisiana, which is surprising to me.

Q: One of the things the industry points out is that even though Texas, for example, has a severance tax, it doesn’t have Pennsylvania’s high corporate income tax rate.

A: It’s hard to compare tax policies across states. In the analysis we did, we wanted to include corporate income taxes, but we couldn’t because they are so different between different states.

In Texas, there is no corporate income tax. However, there is a gross receipts tax companies pay. That does impose a notable additional tax burden.

I think there is something to the idea that Pennsylvania’s high corporate tax rate does add costs for businesses. However, if tax rates were the only thing that mattered, we’d see companies moving more quickly to states like Ohio, where there is no corporate tax rate, but there is a gross receipts tax. These factors matter, but generally their impacts are small.

The three most important factors are the quality of the resource, the prevailing prices, and access to infrastructure—that is, pipelines.

*Note: Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office tracks the impact fee collections and calculates an annual effective tax rate. It has ranged from a high of 5.6 percent in 2011, to a low of 2.3 percent in 2014.

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