Fish, Boat Commission Grateful for Grant

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
14 February 2012
By Bob Frye

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will benefit when, as expected, Gov. Tom Corbett signs legislation creating an impact fee on Marcellus shale drilling operations.

The state Senate and House of Representatives approved the legislation last week. Corbett's signature is expected soon; he said he would sign the bill if and when it made it to his desk.

The bill could reap as much as $180.5 million statewide in fees for drilling activity done in 2011 and as much as $355 million in 2015, according to some estimates from Republican lawmakers.

A tiny share of that -- $1 million annually -- will go to the commission. It will be used to pay staff who assist with permit reviews for new drilling site proposals and, perhaps, for law enforcement work related to pollution incidents tied to wells, said commission executive director John Arway.

The commission is "appreciative" to be getting the funding, he said. There was a lot of competition for a share of the revenue, he added.

But it's not as much as the commission wanted, or really needs, he said.

"It's going to help us do our job better. But it doesn't really get us to where we need to be," Arway said. "As drilling increases, we would need more money."

Under a couple of early versions of impact fee legislation, the commission would have received a percentage -- up to 2 percent -- of all money collected. Revisions changed that to suggest the commission get $1.5 million to $2 million annually, the amount the agency estimated was needed to hire 13 to 17 people to review 5,000 new well permit applications each year and inspect and monitor them.

It won't be getting that much but will have to make do, commissioner Tom Shetterly of Charleroi said.

"In a compromise, nobody's happy. But you take what you can get while you look for something better," Shetterly said.

"We're glad to get that. It's a costly situation."

Arway said the commission's goal remains to hire staff. Though he's not sure how many people that will be, adding employees is critical, he said.

"Really to do justice to estimating impacts (of proposed wells), you need boots on the ground. That's the intent. This will give us more confidence in making sure that these sites aren't in sensitive areas or near high-quality streams or wetlands," Arway said.

The new employees will allow other staff to get back to their "regular" jobs servicing anglers and boaters, he added.

Many waterways conservation officers in the southwest, northcentral and northeast regions of the state have been spending the majority of their time on Marcellus issues, Shetterly added. The commission has trained a number of new officers over the past few years in an attempt to ease that burden, but has barely kept up with retirements, he said.

Arway said the commission is still looking for ways to address that issue. Whether this legislation is the answer in whole or part remains to be seen, he said.

"We're not going to stop investigating water pollution. We're going to continue to be very aggressive on that front," Arway said.

Bob Frye can be reached at or 724-838-5148.