CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new report from federal experts says the Marcellus Shale gas boom is soaring more rapidly than anyone expected. U.S. output from "fracking" and horizontal wells has climbed to 12 billion cubic feet per day -- six times greater than 2009 production, even though the number of new wells actually is declining.
"The vast majority of the Marcellus gas is coming from Pennsylvania and West Virginia," an Associated Press account said. The surge promises to bring energy independence to America.
Meanwhile, a West Virginia Investment Council report to the Legislature says the number of good-paying drilling jobs in the state leaped to 12,666 last year, plus 3,941 more in pipeline, storage tank and related fields.
However, how many of those jobs are going to West Virginians? Who can say? For the second year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration has not provided data on the residency of natural gas workers, data mandated by the Legislature.
The worry, certainly supported by anecdotal evidence, is that a large share of those jobs are held by visiting horizontal drillers and "frackers" imported from other states, because few West Virginians have experience in those techniques. Temporary workers fill hotels and apartments in northern counties, even pricing underemployed workers out of housing in their own hometowns.
The best hope is that chemical plants will be built to utilize the cheap gas -- which could produce many permanent West Virginia jobs.
With southern Appalachia's coal industry in sad decline, it's encouraging that Marcellus gas is rising to help offset the coal loss. It would be even more encouraging if Gov. Tomblin and the Legislature made sure as many West Virginians as possible shared in the boom.