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How Much Can WV Count on Shale Jobs?

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Research shows shale drilling has created less than one percent of jobs in West Virginia. That has many questioning how much the state can count on the industry for its future. PHOTO from Wikimedia Commons.
Research shows shale drilling has created less than one percent of jobs in West Virginia. That has many questioning how much the state can count on the industry for its future. PHOTO from Wikimedia Commons.
 By Dan HeymanContact
December 2, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Less than 1 percent of West Virginia's jobs come from Marcellus shale drilling. That has many asking how much the state can count on that industry for its future. In a recently released study, the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative found drilling and related work accounted for .8 percent of West Virginia's total employment - far less than the industry claims.

Ted Boettner, executive director, West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, said this is important because, in the past, mining, drilling and logging have cost the state more than they've made.

"The big question is, will we benefit this time from natural resource extraction, or will we suffer in the long run? To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, ask not what you can do for the gas companies, but ask what the gas companies can do for our state," Boettner said.

The shale research collaborative report showed that from 2005 to 2012, fewer than four new shale-related jobs were created each time a new well was drilled - a number far below the 31 jobs cited in some industry figures. It also concluded that some new shale-related jobs can be short-lived, as drilling relocates to other parts of the country.

Boettner said West Virginia has been stung in the past when a bust follows a boom, leaving a mess - and little long-term employment - behind.

"Large natural resource extraction has left in its wake environmental degradation and poverty," he said. "And they're a very capital-intensive industry that tends to not employ as many people as things like hospitals and education."

Boettner suggested that the state set aside some of the severance money from the Marcellus drilling in a permanent mineral trust fund. That could pay dividends for years, he said, and help make up for the way coal jobs will be disappearing in one part of the state, even as the drilling booms in another region.

"The development of the Marcellus is going to be uneven, with the employment gains mostly in the northern part of the state, while the southern part of West Virginia continues to see large declines in coal production and subsequent employment."

The study looked at drilling jobs, support work and directly related jobs, such as building pipelines and extracting liquids from the gas.

The full report is available at www.multistateshale.org.

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