When Externalities Are Taxed: The Effects and Incidence of Pennsylvania’s Impact Fee on Shale Gas Wells
To pay for environmental and public infrastructure costs associated with shale gas wells, Pennsylvania introduced a per-well impact fee despite concerns that it would discourage industry investment. Using a quasi-experimental design and data that nearly cover the universe of leases and wells in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, we find that leasing by energy firms declined dramatically after the fee’s enactment, but little to no declines in well permitting or drilling occurred in the most geologically similar subsample. We estimate that at least 60% of the decline in leasing reflects a liquidity crunch linked to retroactive application of the fee in a time of low natural gas prices. We also observe limited pass-through of the fee to resource owners. Firms could not change the terms of leases signed before the fee, and only half of the fee was passed through in new leases, primarily through a lower royalty rate.