Impact Fee Disagreement Decided in Favor of Pennsylvania PUC

by Duane Nichols on January 7, 2019

PA Gov. Tom Wolf has promised more clean energy & green jobs

Pennsylvania Set to Collect Millions in Overdue Impact Fees After Court Ruling

From an Article by Jamison Cocklin, Natural Gas Intelligence, January 4, 2019

Pennsylvania is preparing to collect a windfall from hundreds of shale gas wells and their operators after the state Supreme Court recently issued an opinion resolving a dispute over the definition of stripper wells that aren’t required to pay impact fees.

The state Public Utility Commission (PUC) is working to generate invoices for producers that have disputed and not paid impact fees while the case was unfolding, spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen told NGI’s Shale Daily on Thursday. The PUC estimates that the recent court decision “will involve hundreds of wells with outstanding impact fees totaling millions of dollars.”

The Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision and essentially reinstated a 2016 order from the PUC that directed Pennsylvania-based Snyder Brothers Inc. to pay nearly $500,000 in impact fees, interest and penalties for failing to identify and pay them for 24 vertical wells targeting the Marcellus Shale in 2011 and 21 wells in 2012. The parties were at odds over how state law defines stripper wells.

Snyder claimed that the state’s definition of a stripper well, specifically, an “unconventional gas well incapable of producing more than 90 Mcf/d during any calendar month,” meant that the company did not have to pay the fees and charges, if the well failed to reach the 90 Mcf/d threshold for any single month during the year.

The PUC has claimed that a well is not a stripper well and is subject to the impact fee if it exceeds minimum production levels in one calendar month in a year. Siding with Snyder, the Commonwealth Court concluded that the word “any” in the definition unambiguously means “any” or “one” and not “all” or “every” month as the PUC had argued.

Essentially, the argument surrounded whether a well must produce below the 90 Mcf/d threshold for one month of the year or for every month of the year to be a stipper well. If the Commonwealth Court’s decision to uphold Snyder’s interpretation of the law stood, opponents were concerned that producers would manipulate production by turning down their volumes below the threshold for one month every year to avoid paying impact fees.

The PUC appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the Commonwealth Court’s decision contradicted both the meaning of the law and the intention of the General Assembly.

The state’s high court found that wells producing below the 90 Mcf/d threshold every month of the year are stipper wells. It ruled that the word “any” has multiple meanings, leaning instead on the legislature’s intent to craft an effective and certain bill that is not “absurd” or “impossible” to execute when it passed the legislation.

“There are approximately 17 producers with a varying number of wells and reporting years that owe impact fees for stripper well activity,” Hagen-Frederiksen said when asked how many producers might be affected by the case and how much they owe. “At this time, we do not have a final total, but those figures will become clearer in the coming weeks as invoices are generated and payments are collected from these disputed wells.”

General counsel Kevin Moody of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA), said more producers could be involved as the PUC’s figure is likely outdated and from 2017. Last year’s impact fees, which are self-reported and paid by producers annually, aren’t due until April 1.

PIOGA joined Snyder in opposing the PUC’s 2016 order. Moody said the trade group plans to ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider its decision because the PUC’s legal position on the stripper well definition has changed since it issued the order years ago. He also said the court failed to address other aspects of the Snyder case, such as the PUC’s rejection of the company’s offer to escrow the disputed funds while the matter was being resolved.

He added that there is no refund mechanism in the impact fee statute that would allow the money to be returned if the company had successfully argued its case anyhow, forcing the company to choose between paying the fees or a fine for nonpayment.

The impact fee is levied on all unconventional wells in the state during their first 15 years of operation if they produce above the stripper threshold. The fee schedule and the amount companies must pay for each well depends on the number of years they’ve produced. Since it was enacted in 2012, the state has collected more than $1.4 billion in fees for distribution to local communities and state agencies.


Pennsylvania proposes methane rules for existing wells, facilities

From an Article of Kallanish Energy News, December 17, 2018

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has rolled out a draft plan to curtail air emissions from thousands of existing oil and natural gas wells — a move that could have a major and costly impact on drillers.

The state is expected to take public comment on the proposal early next year.

The proposal is part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2016 strategy to reduce methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas that may leak from wells and other facilities. Last August, Pennsylvania adopted regulations on air emissions from new wells and other facilities.

The new 84-page draft plan that covers existing wells, compressor stations, storage tanks, pneumatic controllers and pumps at wells sites, processing plants and gathering stations, was released last week by the PA DEP.

Environmental groups are pleased to see some activity and recognition of the problems. The industry expressed concerns about the added cost and the timing of the state plan, while the plan was hailed by environmental groups including the Environmental Defense Fund.

“We want to make sure that all oil and gas sources are well-controlled in a reasonable manner to make sure we can keep emissions reduced as low as possible,” George Hartenstein, deputy secretary for Waste, Air, Radiation and Remediation, told media outlet StateImpact Pennsylvania.

The new rules mainly target volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be harmful to human health and also contribute to unhealthy ozone or smog. State officials say stricter limits on VOCs will also prevent methane from escaping. Both VOCs and methane are found co-mingled in natural gas.

Leak detection certainly could be increased. The proposed rules would increase leak detection to quarterly and, in some cases, require better controls to prevent emissions from escaping at wells and other facilities.

Low-producing wells are exempt from the proposed rules. It would maintain the state’s stricter standards for tanks installed after August 2013.

The impacts would be large because of the number of existing Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania. Nearly 7,000 shale wells were drilled in Pennsylvania before the state adopted emission limits from new wells in August 2013. Another 4,400 shale wells were drilled before PA DEP updated its air pollution rules for new wells last August.

Trump administation is moving in the opposite direction. The state’s move comes at a time when the Trump administration is proposing to rollback VOC rules. For that reason, the Pennsylvania energy industry has suggested the state postpone taking any action until the federal changes are implemented.

There is concern Pennsylvania’s stricter rules could create a disadvantage compared to other shale states. The draft plan is available from Pennsylvania Government here.


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StateImpact Penna. January 9, 2019 at 11:58 pm

Governor Wolf sets goal for Pa. to cut greenhouse gas emissions

From an Article by Amy Sisk, StateImpact Penna., January 9, 2019

PHOTO IN ARTICLE: Gov. Tom Wolf announces targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction in Pittsburgh Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (Sabrina Bodon/WESA)

(Pittsburgh) — Gov. Tom Wolf has set a new goal for the state to combat climate change: reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025. Long-term, the governor wants to see an 80-percent reduction by 2050.

He announced the goals Tuesday in Pittsburgh, saying they are based off the state’s 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels. “We’re about halfway there, which means we have work to do,” he said.

The goals stem from the state’s draft Climate Action Plan, released in November by the Department of Environmental Protection. The draft states that if every state and nation met comparable goals, global temperature rise could be kept below the 2-degree Celsius threshold that experts say is necessary to mitigate the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

In his announcement, Wolf called for more wind and solar energy. He said he is open to beefing up the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard — which requires utilities to buy certain amounts of power from alternative sources — though that would require the Republican-controlled legislature to act.

Wolf also cited recent efforts already underway to reduce emissions, such as a proposed rule to cut methane emissions from natural gas well sites and a new law bolstering in-state solar energy.

Wolf did not say whether the state should act to help the nuclear power industry. Nuclear power generation does not release carbon emissions, but it’s struggling to compete with cheap natural gas and renewables.

“I haven’t decided what the state ought to be doing,” Wolf said.

Asked about emissions tied to the state’s growing petrochemical industry — including an ethane cracker plant under construction in Beaver County — he indicated his support for the industry.

Wolf said it’s important that natural gas production to fuel facilities like Shell’s cracker plant is done responsibly. “If you want an either-or situation, I’m not your guy,” he said. “I want to do both. I want to have an energy efficient future, I want to have a strong environment and I want to have a good economy in Pennsylvania, and I think we can do all of those things.”

The shift away from coal-fired electricity to natural gas power generation has helped the state achieve greenhouse gas reductions below its 2005 levels, according to the state’s draft climate action plan.

“We encourage policymakers, including Gov. Wolf, to support common-sense energy and climate-related solutions that encourage responsible natural gas production and use given the overwhelmingly clear benefits of this American resource,” said David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group for Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.

Many environmental groups praised Wolf’s emissions reduction goals, including the Environmental Defense Fund. Andrew Williams, director of legislative and regulatory affairs for EDF, said Wolf’s efforts to cut methane emissions are a good step. To achieve major reductions, he said he would like to see even more action. “There needs to be a limit placed on carbon emissions from the power sector,” Williams said. “We’re talking about setting a firm statewide limit on the CO2 emissions coming from the power sector that would then incentivize the development of a cap-and-trade program.”

A program like that would set a limit on the state’s emissions and allow companies to buy or sell allowances based on what they emit. Other northeast states have joined together to form a regional cap-and-trade program, but Pennsylvania is not a member.

Some environmental groups urged the governor to be far more ambitious in setting goals. Food & Water Watch, for one, said the state should aim for 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 with significant job growth in clean energy.

Wolf on Tuesday also announced the “GreenGov Council,” a committee that will work with all state agencies to reduce energy use and bolster energy efficiency within state buildings.

The council has several of its own targets:

>> A 3 percent reduction in overall energy consumption per year.
>> Replace 25 percent of the state car fleet with electric vehicles by 2025.
>> Offset at least 40 percent of the commonwealth’s annual electricity usage with renewable energy.



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