Street Corner Soapbox: Frack Fracking

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 at 4:51 PM
Street Corner Soapbox: Frack Fracking by Jay Stevens
A. Conaway

Would you poison your water for a job? The Marcellus Coalition thinks so.

You know the Marcellus Coalition. It's a group of energy companies “committed to the responsible development of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale geological formation” under Pennsylvania. One presumes by fracking the hell out of it. Fracking, of course, is the process of extracting natural gas from deep deposits by blowing high-pressure water laced with toxic chemicals into underground fissures to widen them and suck the gas out. Unfortunately our drinking water supply perches inconveniently nearby. And given the recent spate of energy-related disasters – most recently in Montana's scenic Yellowstone River – it's pretty obvious that our water is in jeopardy.

Still, there's a buck to be made here, and so the Marcellus Coalition bought an economic impact study from Penn State that hopes to make you forget all those nasty, unpleasant facts about fracking with the lure of jobs. The study offers up a rosy picture of “lease and bonus payments and royalties,” involved “construction, trucking, steelmaking and engineering services,” and required “goods and services” from the local economy to help frack the state, promising not only a quarter of a million jobs and $1.6 billion in local and state tax revenue by 2015, but painting Pennsylvania as a Utopian economy with a new manufacturing industry arriving to drink at the fount of cheap gas.

Of course, the report is far from perfect. Or even accurate. According to Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, the gas industry currently supports 19,000 jobs, not the 140,000 the report claims for 2010. Likewise, the industry generates $219 million in tax money in Pennsylvania, not the $1.1 billion it claims currently. Also, the energy investor Parks Paton Hoepfl Brown found the report's estimate of gas production unrealistic, noting, for example, how the report assumes the entire Marcellus Formation will be equally productive everywhere, while gas production is actually centered in a small area. Or how the report assumes gas prices will always rise. Or how production, too, will continually rise.

In short, those glowing and idyllic forecasts for 2015 are, well, a tad fanciful.

But then that's assuming we even want jobs from the extraction industry in the first place. After all, a 2010 MIT report showed that dollar for dollar, investment in the extraction industries was the worst way to spur job growth and economic recovery. The best way? Reinvestment in infrastructure and renewable industries, such as reforestation and land restoration. Why? For starters, all the money spent on renewable industry goes directly into wages, not capital investment. For another, investing in infrastructure and land restoration actually makes communities a better place to live with its new bridges, forests, and transportation systems – which is what really draws people and money.

Unlike, say, poisoning the water supply. 

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