How Many Jobs Does Fracking Really Create?

With AFP Story by Veronique DUPONT: US-Energy-Gas-Environment Workers chat at Consol Energy Horizontal Gas Drilling Rig exploring the Marcellus Shale outside the town of Waynesburg, PA on April 13, 2012. It is estimated that more than 500 trillion cubic feet of shale gas is contained in this stretch of rock that runs through parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. Shale gas is natural gas stored deep underground in fine-grained sedimentary rocks. It can be extracted using a process known as hydraulic fracturing "“ or 'fracking' "“ which involves drilling long horizontal wells in shale rocks more than a kilometre below the surface. Massive quantities of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the wells at high pressure. This opens up fissures in the shale, which are held open by the sand, enabling the trapped gas to escape to the surface for collection. 
National Journal
Clare Foran
April 14, 2014, 1 a.m.

Frack­ing cre­ates jobs.

That’s the linch­pin of the oil and gas in­dustry ar­gu­ment for per­mit­ting the con­tro­ver­sial drilling prac­tice. And it’s be­come the in­dustry’s trump card as the de­bate rages — among poli­cy­makers and sci­ent­ists — over wheth­er frack­ing is safe for the people and en­vir­on­ment around it.

Get­ting an ex­act count of how many people col­lect paychecks as a res­ult of frack­ing, however, is more art than sci­ence, and in many cases — par­tic­u­larly when it comes time for in­dustry back­ers and politi­cians to tout the prac­tice — a close look at the num­bers shows that some of the largest es­tim­ates are based on the most gen­er­ous eco­nom­ic as­sump­tions.

Take Pennsylvania, a state at the cen­ter of the frack­ing boom. It sits atop the Mar­cel­lus shale, the largest rock form­a­tion of its kind in the U.S., and has seen a surge in shale gas pro­duc­tion. Nat­ur­al-gas pro­duc­tion in Pennsylvania in­creased by 72 per­cent from 2011 to 2012, the largest jump out of all the ma­jor gas-pro­du­cing states.

Sup­port­ers of frack­ing say the pro­duc­tion ex­plo­sion has gen­er­ated a com­par­able in­crease in oil and gas jobs. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Re­pub­lic­an await­ing the win­ner of a crowded Demo­crat­ic primary in what is pro­jec­ted to be a hotly con­tested gubernat­ori­al race, has worked to put pro-frack­ing policies in place — and his cam­paign is telling Pennsylvani­ans that the policies have pro­duced res­ults.

Corbett’s cam­paign pro­claims in a tele­vi­sion spot that the Mar­cel­lus shale nat­ur­al-gas in­dustry is sup­port­ing over 200,000 jobs. But ac­cord­ing to the Pennsylvania De­part­ment of Labor and In­dustry, just over 30,000 people were em­ployed by in­dus­tries dir­ectly tied to the frack­ing boom in the third quarter of last year.

So what ex­plains the 170,000-job gap between Corbett’s cam­paign and his state agency cal­cu­la­tion?

The 30,000 fig­ure is the state’s es­tim­ate of jobs that are closely con­nec­ted to nat­ur­al-gas pro­duc­tion in the Mar­cel­lus shale — a tally that in­cludes em­ploy­ment in fields like nat­ur­al-gas ex­trac­tion, well drilling, and pipeline trans­port­a­tion.

The state also provides an­oth­er, broad­er met­ric of shale-re­lated jobs. In­stead of count­ing jobs in core Mar­cel­lus shale in­dus­tries, it cal­cu­lates em­ploy­ment in the lar­ger nat­ur­al-gas sup­ply chain. The total for this cat­egory comes to 214,946 jobs in the third quarter of last year.

That’s the fig­ure Corbett is re­ly­ing on for his ad, his cam­paign con­firmed.

But the num­ber was nev­er in­ten­ded to come without caveats. It cov­ers in­dus­tries whose con­nec­tion to oil and gas de­vel­op­ment is tenu­ous at best, ran­ging from freight truck­ing to high­way, street, and bridge con­struc­tion. And agency of­fi­cials openly ad­mit that the fig­ure — when used to es­tim­ate jobs sup­por­ted by shale — amounts to little more than a guess.

“We have ab­so­lutely no idea how many jobs in that second cat­egory are due to nat­ur­al-gas pro­duc­tion,” said Tim McEl­hinny, an eco­nom­ic re­search man­ager at the state De­part­ment of Labor and In­dustry’s cen­ter for work­force in­form­a­tion and ana­lys­is.

None of this is to say that frack­ing hasn’t cre­ated jobs. In 2002, the oil and gas in­dustry em­ployed roughly 6,500 people in Pennsylvania, ac­cord­ing to the fed­er­al Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics. By 2012 — the latest year for which BLS had data avail­able — that num­ber had bal­looned to more than 30,000, an in­crease of about 360 per­cent. Dur­ing that peri­od, the state saw a rise of only 1.3 per­cent in total em­ploy­ment.

The en­ergy boom has in­jec­ted frack­ing — and en­ergy jobs in gen­er­al — in­to the gubernat­ori­al race, but its role in the polit­ic­al dis­cus­sion dwarfs the sec­tor’s ac­tu­al im­pact on the state eco­nomy: In 2012, jobs in core in­dus­tries tied to nat­ur­al-gas pro­duc­tion made up less than 1 per­cent of Pennsylvania’s total 5.5 mil­lion jobs.

“It’s a drop in the buck­et,” said Tim Kel­sey, a pro­fess­or at the Pennsylvania State Uni­versity and cofounder of the Cen­ter for Eco­nom­ic and Com­munity De­vel­op­ment. “Re­l­at­ive to statewide em­ploy­ment this is a very small num­ber of jobs.”

Pennsylvania’s shale boom was enough to ease — but not erase — the state’s pain dur­ing the re­ces­sion. BLS re­ports the state shed a net total of 74,133 jobs between 2007 and 2012, while the oil and gas in­dustry ad­ded roughly 21,000 jobs.

And frack­ing’s abil­ity to spur em­ploy­ment may be wan­ing.

The in­dustry con­tin­ues to add jobs, but the pace has slowed. After post­ing its highest em­ploy­ment gains in a dec­ade between 2010 to 2011 — an in­ter­val when the in­dustry ad­ded roughly 8,800 jobs — the rate of job growth de­clined sig­ni­fic­antly the fol­low­ing year. (The in­dustry ad­ded just over 5,000 jobs from 2011 to 2012.)

Mar­ket forces sug­gest this dip may be more than a blip: Nat­ur­al gas has fallen vic­tim to its own suc­cess. Frack­ing has dra­mat­ic­ally ex­pan­ded the nat­ur­al-gas sup­ply, and as cus­tom­ers pay less for the product, drillers have star­ted to turn to en­ergy sources like oil whose prices are high­er and more stable.

That’s good news for states like Ohio and North Dakota that sit on fields of the li­quid fossil fuel — but bad news for Pennsylvania. It’s also a re­mind­er that the en­ergy boom won’t last forever.

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