Of the $763 billion in tax revenues that states collected in 2011, only $14.6 billion – less than 2 percent – came from severance taxes on coal, gas and oil. Energy production is very concentrated in the United States: Just nine states receive over 5 percent of their tax revenues from energy producers. Currently, the bulk of severance revenues comes from oil production. Alaska, a state floating on an ocean of oil, gets 76 percent of its revenues from a handful of big oil companies that have drilling rights on the North Slope of the state.
As Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett prepares to release the state’s fiscal 2013 budget tomorrow, the AP is reporting that Republicans in the state legislature are planning to cram through a law that levies a minimal tax on gas and oil drillers in the state. Although taxes on gas and oil production could be a means of plugging substantial revenue shortfalls, it’s likely that the legislation will require drillers to pay the smallest level of fees of any state with recoverable energy assets.
There are shale gas fields covering more than half of the United States, but Pennsylvania has emerged as the rising star of domestic energy production with its “Mighty Marcellus” fields. This is a great resource for Pennsylvania, but I’ve been confused about legislation that would impose an “impact fee” on shale gas producers instead of the traditional volume-based royalty structure used by other states. The loss of revenues to the state over the next 20 years using the “impact fee” could be approximately $24 billion using current gas prices. If gas prices doubled (they are currently at 10-year lows), losses to the state could exceed $48 billion or more.
Fracking is under increased scrutiny in the U.S. and in Australia, in the state of New South Wales. Both nations have undertaken studies to examine the effect of fracking on groundwater supplies. But there are other potential socialized costs that need to be included in these public studies, including the possible cost of wastewater treatment plants, damage to local roads, air and water pollution and the linkages to earthquakes. The costs of these possible side effects to local communities may exceed the gains they’ll receive from extraction royalties and increased tax revenues. We need some accounting.
Fracking — the extraction of natural gas from underground deposits of shale — is receiving an increasing amount of attention. The 2010 documentary Gasland brought the issue into the national spotlight and highlighted the problem of contaminated groundwater that can occur when a well casing ruptures and fracking fluids escape into the water table. In addition, there is the issue of used fracking liquids being injected into spent wells for permanent disposal. Of course, the fracking industry and environmentalists have a lot of disagreement about the extent to which these fluids contaminate groundwater.
One of the strongest earthquakes in the history of Oklahoma hit near the town of Sparks on Saturday night. At 5.6 in magnitude, it was the bell-ringer of a series of shakes. What is not clear is where this unusual seismic activity is coming from. The Oklahoman reported: