Ray Stolinas is the Planning Director of Bradford County Planning Commission. He has over 20 years of experience providing municipal comprehensive planning, subdivision and land development and zoning advice to 52 townships and boroughs within Bradford County. Mr. Stolinas performs county and municipal planning functions in the most impacted county in northeastern Pennsylvania within the Marcellus Shale Play with over 1,880 permitted natural gas well sites since 2008. The information below was summarized from Mr. Stolinas’ interview.
Do you believe it is more beneficial to have Act 13 in Pennsylvania rather than severance taxes?
For myself I definitely think Act 13, although it’s not the ultimate way people want to see it happen. I think it is probably the most advantageous for our municipalities because they are seeing the impact. If we were to have a severance tax, a lot of that money would go to Harrisburg and we wouldn’t have as much revenue locally to do those projects that I outlined in Act 13 such as the infrastructure, emergency preparedness, or planning. I think the severance tax would totally be a detriment to that. We would be putting money into programs at the state level that we wouldn’t know where that money was going. At least we know now that there’s a certain amount of money coming to each township and to each county that has natural gas drilling, I always compare it to casinos. When casinos came into Pennsylvania we never saw revenue from the casinos that came into Bethlehem or Wilkes-Barre Scranton. The money went to the local municipalities around those casinos, but we never saw a benefit from that, but yet we’re expected to share the revenue of natural gas. Because we’re a rural area, we don’t have the power in the legislature to keep that money here. The urban municipalities have a lot of say in how that money’s distributed, so I think there’s definitely an imbalance there. That’s why I’m bringing up casinos; we don’t see any share in that, and yet we have to share the natural gas revenue with everyone? This money (from Act 13) is coming back to small townships like Armenia Township and Burlington Township. The borough I live in we don’t have any drill sites in our borough, but received $30,000 I think, the last two years. Now I’m sure our borough is putting it into streets or other things that we didn’t have the money to do so before, but since we have an impact here with traffic and a couple more people here and there, it helps.”
Bradford County’s economy has experienced an economic boom because of gas companies. How do you prepare the economy for when gas companies leave?
We had a group go down to New Mexico, last year I think it was, and New Mexico has been in the oil and gas business for 50 years and this is an industry based on price and supply where there’s boom and times where there’s a bust. Right now we are at a low point and we don’t have as much drilling going on right now, but there have been a lot of permits that have been issued and there’s still activity and there’s still folks here putting pipeline and infrastructure in, but there’s not as much drilling. At the height of our drilling I think we had 30-33 rigs active here and now we are down to three or four, but you know, there’s other things going on. There are workers here building a massive power plant that’s going to be fueled by natural gas. So people want to say workers have left, well not necessarily. We have different types of workers here, it may not be the type of workers who work on the 30 some rigs that we have, but we have pipe liners here, welders, people working on compressor stations and we have people working on the power plant.
Have you had to sell the idea to the community about fracking? Have you dealt with negative and positive feedback since fracking has entered the area?
I don’t think we had to sell them on anything, we’re just providing them information on the trends here in the county. As far as my experience with negative versus positive, I think it’s been more positive than negative. I haven’t had tons of people coming in and saying, ‘we don’t want fracking,’ or, ‘we don’t want natural gas.’ I haven’t had that? I’ve heard people complain maybe about the royalty situation we have as far as some of the companies taking huge amounts of money out of their royalties. I haven’t heard about the environmental effects at all. I think people see that the gas companies here are trying to be responsible and they do have methods of trying to avoid any type of environmental disaster. Some people I’ve talked to have gotten a well pad on their property and they didn’t realize that it’s going to noisy, that there are lights going to be 24/7 and they’ve learned the lesson that it’s not going to be a quiet operation. So it’s an eye opener to them. I think that’s pretty much what I’ve heard from folks that the negative is that maybe they didn’t realize that there’s going to be as much truck traffic or maybe they didn’t realize that there was going to be a noisy time on the well pad when their house is just a mile away or maybe a half mile away. They’ve learned through the process that they have to deal working with the company and seeing how they can live next to each other. There have been positives and negatives; I don’t think it’s been a total disaster like people outside of the county say. People will say, ‘people outside the county say Bradford County is just an industrialized environment.’ It is not; it is still a rural county, it still has character, it’s just we have this presence of natural gas now and I think that presence at times makes people perceive something totally different if they are not living here.
How does Act 13 recirculate money back into areas that have been affected by hydraulic fracturing?
This distribution of Act 13 money means the gas companies end up paying a cost per well through the state as far as those wells being spud or producing and spud basically means that the well had been initiated as far as whatever drilling process it is. And it’s based on the price of gas each year and that money is then collected by PEC (Pennsylvania Environmental Council) and then redistributed to the counties and municipalities with this equation that they had developed in the law that deal with population, how many road miles you have, how many producing wells you have in your municipalities, how many you have surrounding your municipalities. So it involves calculations for each municipal government, and then that money, what is calculated, is redistributed back to both the county and the townships. So what we’ve done is try to keep track of how much funding has come back to the county and the local townships and boroughs. For our case, every township and bureau in our county has received some amount of Act 13 money because of the impacts of natural gas here. And the county has in the last two years has received over $15 million. Again when you talk about township government or borough government it’s up to the township supervisors or borough council to allocate that money where they see fit. So at the county level it would be the county commissioner making that decision, as a planning director, I don’t have any say in where that money goes. Since Pennsylvania is a commonwealth you have all these local elected officials at the county municipal level who are making decisions to where this money is being spent.”
So the county receives money from Act 13, is the money split up between municipalities also?
The county in total received at total of $15.7 million (to be exact). In Bradford County we have 51 local governments, and $23.4 million went to the local governments. So for the last two years, Bradford County has received a total of $39 million. Under Act 13 there are specific uses for this money. The PEC won’t tell you how to use your money, but they are going to say to municipalities there are 13 uses in the law that you can use the money for. The law basically states that you can use it for the construction, repair or maintenance of roads and bridges and other infrastructures such as water and storm water and sewer. When it comes to emergency preparedness for your fire, police, and ambulances, you can use money for that. It can also go toward any kind of environmental programs such as parks, trails and recreation or any kind of preservation, reclamation of surface or sub- surface waters and water supply.