The Illusion of Natural Gas vs. Education

NEPA Energy - Johnny Williams Johnny Williams
Freelance Journalist


Governor Wolf’s severance tax on the natural gas industry for education is an illusion; the proposed tax does not even add up to the $1 billion that he has promised.

It grinds my gears; it truly does. There are not many things that do that to me, even though I think many can agree there’s certainly no shortage of things in our lives to get worked up about. To the point, though, what is grinding my gears is the relentless promotion of an idea presented as an irrefutable fact when it is actually false.

The obvious point here is the endless assault that Pennsylvania is only state that doesn’t have a severance tax. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that statement, I’d probably have enough money to balance the state budget myself at this point.

EducationBut I digress. There is another front that is being pushed by those favoring Governor Tom Wolf’s severance tax that is grinding at me, and that is that the natural gas industry doesn’t pay its “fair share” (whatever that may be) and “must” fund schools. It’s an issue that this blog has posted about before, but since this issue has been repeated undeterred, the truth deserves at least that much.

And the truth is, this is not a war between an industry and education. As far as “fair share”, in addition to the $850 million impact fee, the gas industry has paid over $2 billion in taxes, not to mention millions in permit fees.

“Only in PA do we say that the gov’t collecting nearly a quarter billion dollars from private sector is not a tax,” Kevin Sunday of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry once wrote.

On top of all of those costs, the industry has made it a continued priority to invest and participate in education, as a recent TribLive blog post pointed out.

  • Chevron Corporation: $20 million towards initiative to train new energy workers in the Marcellus and Utica Shale regions.
  • Cabot Oil & Gas: $10,000 grants to six Pennsylvania career and technology centers. And who can forget the $2.5 million gift to Lackawanna College.
  • Consol Energy: $5,000 scholarships to three seniors graduating from Moon, Montour and West Allegheny high schools and is also giving smaller grants to teachers in Greene County, despite the company’s recent unfortunate decision to cut workers.
  • EQT Corporation: $670,000 in scholarships since 1995.
  • Range Resources: Over $1 million to FFA scholarships, Pittsburgh Promise scholarships and the Challenge Program, not mention hundreds of thousands more to youth agricultural programs.
  • Seneca Resources: Nearly $45,000 to education in 2014 alone, in addition to equipment donations to Pennsylvania colleges, according to Rob Boulware, Stakeholder Relations for Seneca.
  • Southwestern Energy (SWN): $100,000 over five years to Lackawanna College as part of the company’s scholarship program.

Beyond direct donations, companies have made it a priority to be actively involved in Pennsylvania education efforts. Williams, for example, has supported and been closely involved with Junior Achievement in Western Pa. and the Careers in Energy program for Marshall County, WV, Connellsville and West Allegheny, PA, school districts, according to Senior Communications Strategist Joe Horvath.


Williams Fluid Power Challenge

“Specifically, Williams has supported and helped start the Williams Fluid Power Challenge in Fayette County, Pennsylvania,” he said. “(We) sponsored the middle-school program (in Allegheny County), and Williams employees volunteered at a workshop, where students learned about hydraulics and pneumatics. Six weeks later, students and volunteers returned for competition day, which included judging student design portfolios and a timed competition.

“Based on success of the 2014 program, Williams helped expand the competition – known as the Williams Fluid Power Challenge – to Fayette County (10 student teams from each of the school districts in Fayette County participated in this program in its first year),” Horvath continued “This year in Allegheny County, 28 student teams representing 112 students participated in the program. Based on the favorable reception of the Fluid Power Challenge program, Williams is in discussions with organizers to consider expanding the program across the southwest PA region.”

The Careers in Energy program has also been quickly gaining ground in northeastern school districts, with Cabot, Williams and SWN all supporting the program and helping it grow, and of course Chief Oil & Gas remains committed to education as well.


Careers In Energy Program

Additionally, SWN has created, sponsored and participated in a number of educational programs since the company entered the Marcellus Shale five years ago and donated tens of thousands of dollars to the programs.

“Education is key for SWN and one of our specifically identified areas for support through our charitable giving program,” SWN’s Mike Narcavage said. “It’s about being a good neighbor and it’s a great opportunity for our company to give back to the local communities where we operate and our employees live.”

In addition to the company’s and Lackawanna College’s scholarship partnership, SWN has supported the PA FFA Leadership Conference in Harrisburg, Junior Achievement, Vehicle Career Days with the Northern Tier Industry and Education Consortium, Bradford and Susquehanna County Envirothons, Wyalusing School District Positive Behavior in School Program, Bradford County Youth Field Days, Tunkhannock 7th grade Field Day, Skills in Scranton Teacher in the Gas Field Program, and PIOGA Teacher Education Program.

Now obviously, all of this educational support from the industry, while hugely important to the schools and kids of Pennsylvania, does not add up to the $1 billion that Governor Wolf has promised; but then again, neither does his severance tax. The industry’s actions have spoken louder than the administration’s words, and that is supporting natural gas is not choosing industry over education, because the industry has given, and is still giving, resounding support to just that.

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