Promises and other tall tales

Long after the money has left, these pipeline and truck road scars will mark the forests over the Marcellus natural gas formation.More than a decade into the boondoggle that has been the natural gas boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, residents of the 22 counties that have produced 90 percent of the treasure obtained from fracking Marcellus Shale find themselves with a paltry share of the proceeds bad water, overburdened roads, and carved-up state forests.

That is the report published recently by the Ohio River Institute, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The report, titled “Appalachia’s Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and getting less in return,” points out the 22 counties have lost 7.6% in job standings, 11% population and 6.3% in personal income – all in contrast with promises made by the fossil fuel industry to create a plethora of jobs for which residents would be well paid.

What makes those numbers difficult to swallow is the outpouring of natural gas profits from the same 22 counties. Greater than even the claims of the industry as it pushed for government subsidies and protection. In a 2010 presentation, driller Range Resources said, “Most experts believe that Pennsylvania has more natural gas than Saudi Arabia has oil.”

And in truth, fracking – a process by which wells are drilled more than a mile into the Earth, then filled with a pressurized water-based potion to release the trapped gas – has almost single-handedly made the U.S. a net fossil fuel exporter – sending more product into offshore markets than we buy from them.

By 2010, when the work had finally begun to gain public notice, it was well underway. Thousands of wells had been drilled, and the industry was well into a media and lobbying blitz to convince Pennsylvanians that destroying the real estate for corporate profit was a good idea.

Alas, most of the production has been in rural, forested areas, largely out of sight of urban dwellers. It’s impressive when a northern Pennsylvania farmer is on television happily announcing that Range Resources has paid him enough money to pick up his dog and wife and tour the country in an RV.

The fact that few other farmers received a similar portion of wealth went largely unnoticed.

Drilling is a highy skilled employer, and it brought that skill along with the drill rigs, from Texas and Oklahoma. It was skill – and pay – that left the state for other drilling fields once the wells were installed here.

The winners have been the fossil fuel producing industry and the politicians it has paid to keep regulations, restrictions and taxes at bay.

Some of our more nearsighted politicians would have us believe the industry would, if faced with sharing the wealth with the Commonwealth’s residents, simply pack up their equipment and walk away – although it has been pointed out numerous times the industry pays far more taxes and obeys more regulations in Texas and several midwestern oil and gas-rich states.

Now the drillers are nearly gone. Some pipelines are yet to be laid through state and across private owners’ pastures and forests. Once told the Marcellus shale would provide cheaper fuel to East Coast states from Washingington, D.C. to Boston, MA, we now know that most of the gas being extracted from Pennsylvania is bound for plastics manufacturers in U.S. and export markets.

It clearly is a mature industry, yet – according to another report, issued by PennFuture, the industry received $3.8 billion in subsidies in 2019 – up 14% in four years.

And yet nearly all the profits – the money residents were led to believe would be theirs – is being transported out of the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, along with the actually product taken from under their feet.

I hope you enjoyed the journey. Thanks for coming along. Comments are welcome. Before you go, please tap a button to share.

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