Doing the Math: E=J

Publish date: 
November 22, 2011

Don’t know if Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley was a math major, but he’s promoting an equation that certainly adds up: E = J.

“Energy equals jobs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Cawley told a recent gathering of Bucks County business owners and students. Pennsylvania ishaving an energy/jobs revolution right now with natural gas development from the Marcellus shale play. Gas drilling supports 300,000 jobs in the state with an average annual wage of $74,000, Cawley said. More jobs are forecast, with Penn State researchers saying 212,000 additional positions will be generated by Marcellus activity.

The effects of the Pennsylvania equation aren’t even limited to Pennsylvania. The southern tier of neighboring New York, where companies are reacting to demand next door, is getting a boost. Same for Ohio to the west, where a moribund steel industry has new life, servicing needs in the Marcellus. Other industries are gaining as well.

But Ohio isn’t just supporting Pennsylvania. Development of the Utica shale play in the eastern part of the state could generate more than 200,000 oil and natural gas industry jobs, according to a study for the Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Still, some are treating E=J like higher math. The Marcellus revolution in New York state awaits decisions on the extent to which officials will allow it to proceed. Last week in Ohio, the U.S. Forest Service canceled a mineral lease auction for Wayne National Forest, effectively delaying natural gas drilling in that area for six months. I’m no whiz at algebra, but if E=J, then the lack of E must certainly mean a lack of J.

Seriously, the chief obstacle to the broader economic and energy benefits of natural gas is opponents of a clean-burning, abundant fuel. The shale gas revolution means the United States could be sitting on top of a 100-year supply that’s key to a more secure energy future (FT.com subscription required):

“The jobs growth is a consequence of new technology which has enabled companies to economically extract gas from tightly packed shale rock that had only several years ago been ignored as too expensive to bother with. The US has had significant growth in the amount of gas that can be recovered domestically because of shale, making it now the largest producer of natural gas in the world.”

The question is whether we can take “yes” for an answer on energy from shale.