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Senate Hopeful Marcellus Agreement Can be Reached Soon

This week, Senate Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) said he wants the House and Senate to come to an agreement on the Marcellus Shale drilling policy prior to Governor Corbett’s budget address which is slated for early February.

The legislature returns to the Capitol on Jan. 17, which allows just two weeks for an agreement to be reached.

Scarnati, who authored the Senate’s natural gas package, said that after debates on House Bill 1950 and Senate Bill 1100, all parties involved know where the differences lie, it is just a matter of gaining some “movement on both sides.”

The biggest divisions remain the fee amount and duration, which entity will collect the fee, and distribution of fee revenues.

House and Senate Republicans are still at odds over the size of well fees. The Senate wants to impose a $360,000 per-well fee over 20 years, while the House envisions a lesser fee of $160,000 per-well fee over 10 years. Also of difference, under the Senate bill, the state collects the fee, versus local collection under the House plan.

After failure to get either the Senate or House bill through both chambers, it appears that the bill is headed for conference committee later this month, where three members of each chamber – four Republicans and two Democrats – will continue talks.

House and Senate Democrats continue to have issues with both Republican plans. Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said that he hopes an agreement can be reached through a conference committee. However, the amount of sway the Democrats will have over the final plan remains questionable.

House Spokesman Steve Miskin said that some progress has been made on the fee level, but collection of the fees remains an issue. House Republicans are following in step with Governor Corbett who supports fee collection at the local level.

It seems unlikely that Corbett will drop the natural gas industry from his top priority list in 2012; however, it is even more unlikely that an agreement will be reached in the next three weeks.