the (new) american worker

Gone Upstate: A Few Shots of Life on the Marcellus Shale

Last week, I took a long, scenic drive upstate to visit the “Valley” – a little smattering of villages on either side of the southern New York/north central Pennsylvania border. I went to get a sense for the area, one that I understood to be chronically depressed and fiercely torn over the prospect of shale gas drilling – for some, an immense resource, for others the worst possible solution to decades of economic decay. The issue is especially prevalent as Pennsylvania has already begun tapping its portion of the Marcellus Shale gas formation, resulting in a sharp uptick in state revenue – in 2009, the state and local tax revenue drawn from PA drilling projects is estimated to have grown 60 percent, from $240 million in 2008 to an estimated $400 million in 2009.

A moratorium on drilling stands in New York, as the state works through regulatory process with “no timeline,” according to DEC spokesman Yancey Roy. Many expect New York to eventually approve drilling on its stake in the Marcellus Shale, but as Pennsylvania still works out its environmental controls – five PA wells were slapped with violations last month – is shale drilling in New York really worth it? I’m writing about that now, for a feature class @ NYU – so for the time being, enjoy some images…

Towanda, PA. If this was a wider shot, you'd see cows grazing to the left. Wonder what they think of their new neighbors...

A producing well (post-drilling). A well like this could produce for up to 30 years, though most output will occur in its first 10.

These orange stakes, ribbons whipping, dot the Bradford County countryside. They are almost comically modest - if one of these spots proves to hold enough shale gas, the landowner just hit the jackpot.


Giving Workers the Chance to Compete in Their Own Backyard
March 19, 2010, 11:57 pm
Filed under: marcellus shale, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

I’ve been doing some research lately on Marcellus Shale – the 54,000 square mile swath of thick shale that covers one of the largest motherlodes of known natural gas deposits in the United States. Years ago, the shale was too difficult to tap, but with the emergence of new drilling technology, the Marcellus Shale has now become one of the most closely-watched energy rushes.

Communities like Couldersport, PA are trying to give their own residents a chance to compete for jobs drilling Marcellus Shale.

Communities like Couldersport, PA are trying to give their own residents a chance to compete for jobs drilling the Marcellus Shale.

Much has been written in the past few years about drillers positioning themselves for a possible boom, especially of the initiation of contentious land leasing deals in the Marcellus communities. While some landowners are eager to sign off their land, they’ve drawn the ire of others who complain drillers and landowners alike haven’t adequately considered environmental effects. These stakeholders stretch as long as the shale formation itself, from upstate New York, through Pennsylvania, Ohio and finally into West Virginia.

From what I’ve read, many of the landowners who’ve agreed to drilling on their land, or are currently considering it, consider themselves just one piece of a broader mandate to breathe life into the struggling rural communities atop the Marcellus. An article I read recently quoted a New York woman who claimed to express great relief when she heard that the shale was now being tapped, not just for the potential windfall for herself and her neighbors, but for the creation of a new local economy that could create good, local jobs.

So this article caught my eye today when scanning new updates on the Marcellus Shale communities. It tells the story of Coudersport, a north-central Pennsylvania town whose population barely tops 2,000 people. The unemployment rate in Potter County, where Coudersport is located, is still higher than the national average, estimated at 10.8 percent in January. Seemingly, if towns like this one were on the fence about natural gas wells in their backyard, recent economic events have cast aside those concerns. The article describes standing room only at a recent natural gas industry job fair – where participants ranged from all ages and backgrounds. It also quoted a recent Pennsylvania study that estimates jobs in the north-central region of PA could grow by 62 percent by 2016, if the drillers are able to meet current regulatory and environmental challenges.

It is my opinion that the emerging US energy economy has the potential to change the face of American labor. Yet this article mentions one subtler point that it sometimes easy to forget –

From AP:

“Gas companies drilling wells bring in many experienced workers from out-of-state to staff Pennsylvania rigs…What in-state applicants may be lacking, though, are the proper skills. Area high schools, colleges and technical schools have started discussing how to offer training.”

I’ve written before about the need to give our human capital the skills they need to participate in our country’s energy ambitions. This article reminded me that I tend to think about this in broad strokes. Equally important, I believe, is to provide those workers who share a backyard with some of these projects with a fair chance to compete for them. I’m not suggesting preferential treatment, but rather smart planning that considers the local labor potential concurrently with planning and development.