Pennsylvania sells out cheaply in fracking fight

February 9, 2012

By Christopher Swann

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Pennsylvania is selling out cheaply in the fight against fracking. The Keystone State, the nucleus of national opposition to the deep-drilling technique, is poised to levy a gas tax, ostensibly to cover drilling damages. The charge may soften the hostility. But the levy is less than half that of other states, suggesting the industry still has the upper hand.

Hydraulic fracturing is blamed for many ills, from water contamination to minor earthquakes. Many of the claims look exaggerated, though the controversial practice takes an undeniable toll on gas-rich areas. Disposing of drilling fluids strains water treatment facilities. To properly monitor the activity requires extra inspectors. And the army of heavy trucks needed to transport fracking equipment exacts extensive damage. The cost of such wear and tear to motorways was estimated to be about $450 million in Arkansas alone by the state’s authorities.

Most gas-producing states have long imposed taxes to offset some of these costs. Pennsylvania has been the last big holdout. It helps explain why the state has been at the vanguard of national objection to fracking. The roughly $200 million the state’s new tax proposal would generate annually – much of which is to be passed onto affected communities – may convince protesters to lay down their placards.

Still, it’s a poor Faustian bargain. The effective rate of the new tax will fluctuate between 1.2 percent and 2.5 percent of production, about a third what Texas extracts and roughly a quarter the peak rates in Louisiana. Proposals by Pennsylvania Democrats for a stiffer levy would have produced twice as much revenue, potentially mitigating painful spending cuts. Aside from short-changing Pennsylvanians, the new deal will limit the ability of local communities to restrict drilling.

Over the past decade, gas drillers have spent close to $750 million on campaign contributions and lobbying in the Keystone State, according to the activist group Common Cause. The latest pact suggests the money was well spent. Drillers must be hoping the comparatively light tax will be just enough to calm discontent, at least for a while. But the industry shouldn’t necessarily expect Pennsylvania’s anti-fracking brigade to be placated for good.


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What happened to the Pennsylvania I know that protected its water and fish by levying fines upon those who drove a tractor through streams a foot wide? Who has been purchased by the gas industry? Is it the Governor? The legislators? Who, but other Pennsylvanians will suffer from this outragious attrocity purported for the good of all? Looks like you need to take back your state or import water, put up with earthquakes for the sake of the almighty dollar. How much is your house worth, your cattle and horses, your family without clean drinking water? What a disasterous state of affairs your commonwealth is buying into.

Posted by Wassup | Report as abusive

The ability to not have to put on a sweater to stay warm vs. having permanently polluted groundwater. What a trade.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

Political influence purchased through campaign contributions? Shocking! Just kidding. Of course, it’s Pennsyvania, the origins of the oil industry, then the pawns of coal, now the gas industry. And all these great industries have done what? Well, they have made Pennsylvania into one of the slum centers of the US. Please visit Pittsburgh and Harrisburg and Philadelphia to see the squalor produced by these great industries. The word ugly comes to mind. What’s really amazing is that there are people healthy enough to protest.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive