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Pennsylvania eyes severance tax, calls oilfield workers criminals

May 25, 2010
Pennsylvania lawmakers are mulling a severance tax on natural gas production as activity in the Marcellus Shale continues to ramp up. The state needs the money, at least according to the governor's office, to combat the criminals shipped into the state by drilling companies.

From the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader:

Pennsylvania’s state police commissioner on Monday raised concerns about an increase in crime associated with the natural gas industry, including the failure of some sex offenders employed by drilling companies to properly register in the state.

Gov. Ed Rendell’s office cited those crime problems as well as road damage caused by overweight and unsafe trucks serving the natural gas industry as just two reasons a state severance tax should be imposed on the industry.

In a press release from Rendell’s office in Harrisburg, state police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski reported more arrests and incidents involving drugs, assaults and illegal weapons in northern Pennsylvania, where much of the drilling into the Marcellus Shale is taking place in the state.

“More and more, it seems the police reports coming out of the northern tier include arrests because of drug use and trafficking, fights involving rig workers, DUIs and weapons being brought into the state and not registered properly,” Pawlowski said.

“We’ve even encountered situations where drilling company employees who have been convicted of a sexual assault in another state come here to work and do not register with our Megan’s Law website. Each of these issues is unacceptable and places an even greater burden on our law enforcement and local social programs meant to help those in need,” he said.

Rendell has proposed a severance tax, which he says will ensure that the industry “pays its fair share and helps support the programs and services the state, counties and municipalities must provide to accommodate their presence.”

Under Rendell’s plan, the state would take in about $1.8 billion during the next five years, with $180 million of that being shared directly with local governments in areas where there is drilling activity. Local governments could then use those funds to repair roads and other infrastructure, bolster local law enforcement efforts or provide programs to help those in need.

A representative of Energy in Depth – an organization representing natural gas and oil producers – says state officials are ignoring the economic benefits of the industry when considering the severance tax issue.

“There used to be a time, and it probably wasn’t too long ago, when states were thankful for industries that found a way to create tens of thousands of new jobs and billions in annual revenue – especially during a deep recession,” Chris Tucker, a spokesman for Energy In Depth, said in an e-mailed response.

“If this is the way that state administrators show their thanks for bringing enormous economic opportunities to the Commonwealth, they sure have a funny way of showing it,” Tucker said.

Tucker also believes Pawlowski is using too broad a brush to paint an unfair picture of natural gas industry workers.

“The explicit suggestion by the state police that all natural gas workers in the state are a bunch of common criminals is especially reproachable and should be retracted and apologized for immediately,” Tucker said.
 
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