Gas leases have fiscal implications

Property owners hear about some of the financial complications involved with gas drilling agreements.

Although planning for what to do with gas-lease profits is a problem most people wouldn’t mind having, landowners likely aren’t eager to add paperwork to the already document-laden gas-leasing process.

Experts, however, say protecting the wealth is the same as accumulating it in the first place.

“I’ve seen some horror stories, and if it means going to an attorney and paying a few dollars, it’s worth it,” said Ronald Honeywell, a trust officer with Luzerne Bank who spoke at a seminar on the financial implications of gas leases on Monday evening at Lake-Lehman Junior-Senior High School.

Past seminars on leasing have packed the school’s auditorium, but Monday’s seminar on taxes and investing attracted perhaps 50 people. Presenters admitted that financial topics aren’t often looked forward to but are important nonetheless.

Of particular interest were leasing’s tax implications, such as drilling’s effect on county Clean and Green tax abatement programs. Michelle O’Brien, an attorney with Rosenn, Jenkins & Greenwald in Wilkes-Barre, said drilling would roll back seven years of abatements.

“It’s only fair that the oil company pays that price because they’re the ones kicking you out of Clean and Green,” she said.

However, she pointed out that the company’s payment would likely be a reimbursement, meaning the landowner should be prepared to pay the penalty.

“It sounds like a simple concept, but the money could be a lot of money,” she said, perhaps up to $100,000.

O’Brien also pointed out leases allow landowners to retain control over the location of pipelines and other infrastructure because the property’s marketability could drop depending on where such things are placed.

Even with legal exemption clauses, landowners should retain liability insurance, she said, to cover situations not directly caused by the drilling processes, such as all-terrain vehicles crashes or youths getting hurt on the equipment.

Robert Lawrence, a certified public accountant, explained that the royalties and sign-on bonuses are passive income, similar to rental income, which means they can push landowners into higher tax brackets and impact Social Security or Medicare payments. He suggested that people receiving royalties discuss paying installments on the estimated taxes.

Passing the wealth along creates its own pitfalls, noted Lee Piatt, also with Rosenn, Jenkins & Greenwald. Financial planning and distribution of the proceeds through family corporations or other outlets can avoid some of that, he said.

While it can cause headaches, the increased tax burden can also make some investments more enticing, said Arthur Daube, an investment adviser with Park Avenue Securities. Though their return is low, municipal bonds are tax-free by law, he said, so they can act as havens for profits.

O’Brien also pointed out leases allow landowners to retain control over the location of pipelines and other infrastructure.

Copyright: Times Leader