The Washington County commissioners recently gave their thoughts on the state of the local economy during 2020’s pandemic restrictions, and the natural gas industry was among the topics they featured.
The virtual “State of the Economy” roundtable discussion was hosted by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.
The commissioners acknowledged that 2020 presented a challenging economic environment, but Chairwoman Diana Irey Vaughan noted that “despite some of the hardships, we have had some successes.”
And even though the natural gas industry was in a downturn before the pandemic, she said that Washington County was fortunate to have it bringing in revenue and jobs. In 2019, the county received $6.6 million in impact fees paid by natural gas producers, the most of any county in the state. Another $11.5 million went to the county’s municipalities and more than $200 million in impact fee revenue was distributed statewide.
The headquarters of several large gas producers are in Washington County and a number of spinoff businesses are also located there. “We depend on the energy industry surviving and thriving in Washington County,” Irey Vaughan said.
Commissioner Larry Maggi called the gas industry a “game-changer” and said that although it has “ebbs and flows” it will be here for many years. Irey Vaughan said that forecasts indicate the Appalachian gas industry is sustainable and will improve, although it will not be at the same level it was at the peak of development.
Commissioner Nick Sherman said that while natural gas is “without a doubt the biggest industry we have in Washington County,” officials must also look at diversification of the economy and determine what other industries can be developed.
All three commissioners expressed strong support for the industry. “We have to protect and defend this industry from new taxes that could cripple it,” Irey Vaughan said, an apparent reference to Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest proposal to institute a severance tax on gas production to support COVID-19 related workforce development. She noted that state has a deficit and said “we do not want those deficits to be placed on the backs of an industry that has been so good to us.”