Opinion: Shale helping boost Pa. recovery
Make no mistake, the past few years have been difficult for Pennsylvanians looking to find well-paying jobs. Our state's unemployment rate has been stuck above 7 percent for more than five years. Many people have become so frustrated that they've stopped looking for work. The one bright spot has been Marcellus Shale development, which has offset this larger trend by providing hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians with meaningful work and newfound hope for their financial future.
Since shale development began in earnest just a few years ago, it has created more than 239,000 jobs, according to the state Department of Labor. Of these, more than 28,000 are in "core" positions that pay at least $83,000 per year, while the remainder are in fields that, while very different, support this development and employ hard-working people of diverse technical backgrounds.
As a result, Pennsylvanians from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh now have a reason to be optimistic about their families' financial future.
Despite our distance from the Marcellus Shale, some of the examples of this newfound hope are very close to home. In Philadelphia, the once-struggling Aker Shipyard is now "thriving" due to the abundant quantities of oil and natural gas being extracted from shale. Now, instead of facing imminent closure as it was just a few years ago, the shipyard rehired more than 1,000 of its workers - many of whom are members of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers - to fulfill more than $1.1 billion in contracts that are in place through 2017.
One retired shipbuilding executive summed up the reversal of fortune for the shipyard and its unionized employees rather succinctly by stating that "not very long ago, it was safe to say that all the ... [U.S.-flag commercial tanker construction] was done. . . . [Now] we are building ships like crazy. . . . This upheaval is the most exciting thing that's happened in the industry in decades."
Of course, the shipyard and its employees aren't the only ones benefitting from this surge of employment activity. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, both the Marcus Hook and Trainer refineries have gained new life processing oil and liquids from shale development. Those projects will save and create thousands of jobs for skilled workers.
Meanwhile, across the state, Chris Petrone, of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66, noted last year that his 7,000-member union is "very close to full employment, with much of the work being a direct result of the Marcellus Shale."
At the same time, Abe Amoros of the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) said, "Marcellus Shale has been a tremendous boost for our members. . . . We're glad these jobs are here to stay and will be around for at least a generation."
Amoros' assertion is backed up by statistics from the Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust's Shale Information and Tracking System, which found that last year, LIUNA members saw an 18 percent increase in hours worked due to the many pipeline projects being advanced to transport oil and natural gas from the nation's shale basins.
As our economy continues to slowly recover from the Great Recession, these experiences provide promise of the opportunities that are likely to come as a result of shale development in Pennsylvania and across the nation. While each of these examples is unique in the lives it has changed for the better, the source of this progress is inextricably linked to the geological abundance the Marcellus Shale and other shale basins continue to provide.
As our economy rebounds and thousands of Pennsylvanians continue to seek employment, we must avoid policies like a state-wide moratorium that would halt this much-needed employment growth. Rather, our state's policymakers should work together to put in place policies that increase these opportunities while assuring safe development. After all, needlessly throwing away well-paying jobs would sacrifice prosperity for current and future generations, with little discernible benefit.
Mike Butler is executive director of the Consumer Energy Alliance Mid-Atlantic.