County wants royalty clarity

BY STACI WILSON

The Susquehanna County Commissioners are asking the state legislature to clarify the Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act (GMRA) in order to make sure property owners are receiving the correct royalty revenue.
At the May 8 meeting the commissioners adopted the resolution because local landowners are receiving less than a twelve and one-half percent royalty from their natural gas as the gas industry utilizes the “net back” method which causes landowners to incur post-production costs.

In a March 2010 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held (Kilmer v. Elexco Land Services) that the “net-back” method of royalty calculation was allowable under the GMRA, but noted that until the state legislature specified the point of valuation for royalties, the statute had to be interpreted as written.

The commissioners are looking for the legislature to require the minimum 12 and one-half percent royalty by not allowing post-production deductions that reduce the payment to less than that.

In the resolution, the commissioners voiced unanimous support of safe, responsible Marcellus shale development and said it was not their intention to interfere with existing contracts or leases but was, in fact, to ensure proper royalty payments for local landowners.

Commissioner Alan Hall said that the Bradford County Commissioners was also expected to pass a similar resolution.

Anti-drilling activist Craig Stevens said the county placed energy in to supporting the Second Amendment; and energy in to making sure people receive correct royalties but, he questioned their concern about water supplies some residents claimed were affected by natural gas drilling.

Stevens showed the commissioners what he said were about 50 Dept. of Environmental Determination letters that noted natural gas drilling had negatively impacted water wells in Bradford County. Stevens said he was waiting to receive similar Determination letters for Susquehanna County.

Sally Hawley of Montrose was hired as the county System Database Administrator/Technical Administrator at a salary of $30,000, increasing to $32,500 upon successful completion of a six-month probationary period, effective May 9.

A used, 2012 Ford Escape was purchased at a cost of $17,999 from Simmons Rockwell, Hallstead, for the Assessment department.

A one year contract for cleaning services with FDT Professional Services was approved at $65 per week for the New Milford District Court office.

The commissioners also accepted the verbal resignation of Luann Mariani from the county elections department.

Two Children & Youth service agreements were also approved by the commissioners.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Stevens spoke about the findings from DEP’s investigation into alleged water well contamination in Franklin Twp.

He also mentioned the recent sale of Chesapeake Energy’s Susquehanna County holdings to Southwestern saying the sale indicated trouble in the natural gas industry.

Vera Scroggins asked Commissioner Michael Giangrieco if Commissioner Alan Hall – as chair – could limit the number of comments from an audience member. She also asked that any rules pertaining to meetings and comments be posted and asked what “ordinance” covered those rules.

Scroggins questions were met with a “no comment” from Giangrieco.

At a commissioners’ meeting in December 2012, Hall announced a three minute time limit for speakers during the public comment portion of the business meeting. The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act allows for the limitation of time for public comment during a meeting.

The county salary board also convened May 8.

The board eliminated the position of Assistant Roads & Bridges Foreman, effectively immediately.
That position was replaced with a newly created title, Roads & Bridges/Maintenance.

Hall said the new position would be more administrative in nature with the person hired working with engineers and subcontractor oversight, as well as tracking liquid fuel reimbursements, maintaining files and documenting the condition of county bridges in case of damage during a disaster.