CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The boom in shale-gas drilling accounts for thousands of regional jobs but has not lived up to some of the most optimistic estimates offered by industry backers, according to a report released Thursday.
Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations has created jobs, especially in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, cushioning parts of those states from the nationwide recession and the weak recovery that has followed, according to the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative, a group of research organizations tracking the issue.
However, the economic impact has been less than some have predicted, and critics remain concerned that "recent trends are consistent with the boom-and-bust pattern that has characterized extractive industries for decades."
"While shale development has been important to West Virginia's ongoing economic recovery, it is less than one percent of the state's employment mix," said Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, a collaborative member. "This means policymakers need to make the important public investments in higher education and workforce development that will diversify our economic and make it stronger over the long term."
Frank Mauro, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York, another collaborative member, said, "Industry supporters have exaggerated the jobs impact in order to minimize, or avoid altogether, taxation, regulation and even careful examination of shale drilling."
Gas industry employment in a six-state region around the Marcellus and Utica shale formations has increased from less than 30,000 in 2006 to nearly 60,000 last year, according to the report.
Still, there have been about 4 jobs created for every well drilled, compared to one often-cited estimate of 31 direct jobs per well issued by the Manhattan Institute.
Steve Everley, a spokesman for the industry group Energy In Depth, noted that the new report is partly funded by the Park Foundation, a New York group that has backed anti-drilling efforts.
Everley also said the report looks too narrowly at only the jobs directly provided by the production of natural gas and not at other local and regional impacts. He noted, for example, the benefits to hotels and restaurants, as well as to farmers who lease their land for drilling.
"As it turns out, workers need to eat and a place to sleep -- local restaurants and hotels are the beneficiaries of that, as are the people who get hired by those local businesses," Everley said in an email message.
"Data and statistics on job numbers can be manipulated to tell whatever story you want," he said, "but there are a lot of working families in the region who have jobs and better lives because of shale development, and not all of them are drilling wells or building pipelines."
In West Virginia, labor groups have complained that too many of the Marcellus jobs appear to be going to out-of-state workers brought in by the drilling companies. In each of the past two years, the Tomblin administration has not complied with a legislative mandate to provide data on the residency of workers in the industry.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.