The "Rally to Fight Fracking" in Harrisburg, Pa., last week got the name wrong. "Rally to Fight Jobs" would have been a better title because stopping fracking - the endgame of the anti-fracking crowd - would cost Pennsylvania many thousands of jobs.
Without hydraulic fracturing technology - which essentially uses water pressure to create fissures in rock to allow natural gas and oil to come to the surface - Pennsylvania would not be able to develop more than a small fraction of its immense natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale formation that runs under much of the state.
This could mean stopping an energy renaissance that is already producing enormous economic benefits, including large numbers of high-wage jobs that are driving unemployment down and putting food on the table for many Pennsylvania families. But, as much as Pennsylvania needs these jobs, few people want them if the cost is significant environmental harm.
The good news is, despite what some may have said at the rally, we don't have to make that choice. The weight of the evidence clearly demonstrates that hydraulic fracturing is safe, and strong oversight by state regulators and promotion of best practices by the industry will keep it that way. We can have the jobs we need while preserving our land, rivers and forests.
The benefits of natural gas development are beyond dispute. Developing natural gas supported more than 140,000 Pennsylvania jobs in the third quarter of 2010, according to the latest numbers from the state Department of Labor and Industry. These jobs pay $62,000 on average, nearly $18,500 to almost $25,000 a year more than the state average, according to a Penn State study.
And those benefits will increase. By 2020, full development of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania could support more than 211,000 jobs in the state, according to a study by Natural Resources Economics, Inc. The study also points out that development has produced more than $1 billion in state and local tax revenue since 2006 and could generate nearly $2 billion per year by 2020.
Then there are the benefits of the natural gas itself. Natural gas is one of our most versatile energy sources. It is used to heat homes, run factories, generate electricity, power vehicles and make petrochemicals for creating everything from computer chips to MRI machines to football helmets. It is also more clean-burning than other fossil fuels. It is good for air quality and reduces carbon emissions. It is affordable.
The safety of hydraulic fracturing should also not be in question. The technology has been used in more than 1 million wells since the 1940s. It has been studied repeatedly by the U.S. EPA and other experts. And there is no evidence it has caused significant water contamination problems or other environmental harm. Moreover, strong state and federal rules will ensure that any risks are carefully managed and that the safety and environmental performance of those employing hydraulic fracturing remains high.
The oil and natural gas industry is strongly committed to safe and environmentally protective operations. It has a 90-year history of developing standards and safe practices, and, most recently, through the American Petroleum Institute, it completed a series of guidance documents that provide the blueprint for the environmentally sound development of natural gas using hydraulic fracturing. API is promoting these guidance documents throughout the industry here in Pennsylvania and wherever hydraulic fracturing technology is employed. The industry has also worked closely with our state's Department of Environmental Protection to promote safe and reliable production and is working with many Pennsylvania communities to acquaint them with the facts about hydraulic fracturing.
Pennsylvanians have been blessed with an energy resource that is now creating a major new industry in a state that needs one. Billions of dollars are being invested. Many thousands of new jobs are being created. The foundations of a stronger economic future are being established. Pennsylvania is better off today because of development of its natural gas - and better off because of hydraulic fracturing technology that has enabled safe production of it.
The Economic Impacts of the Marcellus Shale (video)