The bounty promised from drilling on the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation is starting to be delivered.
Range Resources Corp., a leading company in the drilling, says it handed out $1.2 million in royalty checks last week.
The money went to 31 landowners who have wells near their land and live near Range's gas-processing plant about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. They were the first significant royalties paid out by the company from its 120-plus Marcellus shale wells.
Are these royalties a big deal? You bet. One farmer received a check for more than $357,000. Just about any resident in our region could have his economic struggles in these difficult times eliminated by such a payment.
With that economic opportunity comes a great need for a process that is fair to landowners, the drilling companies and the municipalities where the drilling occurs.
Let's be clear. Those are the three parties that should benefit the most from this fortunate discovery. To date, solid steps have been taken locally to assure a proper regulatory process accompanies the drilling process in our region.
But this drilling, once it unfolds with regularity, will be taxing on roads and other infrastructures in the municipalities. And landowners on drilling sites need to be comfortable that the environmental integrity of their properties will be preserved.
These are not so much state issues as they are landowner, municipal and county issues. So, before anyone decides this is the avenue to solving the state's budget shortfalls, local interests need to be represented by elected officials from our region.
There will be plenty more checks like those issued last week written out for landowners in our area. That's where they need to stay. There will be plenty of roads in our region handling traffic volume and weights that they may not have been constructed for. Those municipalities need to reimbursed for those unforeseen costs.
The Marcellus Shale windfall is fortunate. The next important business is making sure the correct people benefit from the economy it will generate, all the while assuring preservation of the affected environment.