Gas Industry Supports Fewer Jobs Than Pennsylvania Governor Claims, Report Says

CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Corbett delivers his budget address for the 2014-15 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Incumbent Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is campaigning for re-election using overstated numbers on how many jobs the natural gas industry actually supports in his state, according to a Monday report in National Journal.

Journal reporter Clare Foran took a close look at job numbers from Pennsylvania’s state labor agency and found that approximately 30,000 people were directly employed by the booming natural gas industry, largely driven by the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That number is drastically smaller than the number Governor Corbett touted in a recent ad, which said the industry supports more than 200,000 jobs.

The figure Corbett is using includes jobs indirectly supported by the natural gas industry, such as freight trucking and construction. Foran took issue with that figure, quoting a state Department of Labor researcher who admitted that the number “amounts to little more than a guess.”

“We have absolutely no idea how many jobs in that second category are due to natural-gas production,” Tim McElhinny, an economic research manager at the state Department of Labor and Industry’s center for workforce information and analysis, reportedly said.

Corbett’s office on Monday denied that the ad’s citation of 200,000 jobs supported by natural gas was misleading, saying the allegation represents a “frustrating” pattern of attempts by news organizations and liberal advocacy groups to get people to think the Governor is trying to be dishonest about job numbers.

“[The 200,000 figure] is a conservative number to be honest with you,” Patrick Henderson, Corbett’s deputy chief of staff and energy executive, told ThinkProgress. “To say is it misleading — well, only to the extent that it may be too conservative.”

Henderson said that while it is true that the gas industry only supports 30,000 direct, “core” jobs that employ people on the drilling pad itself, there are other jobs that are supported by the industry. Henderson said that it doesn’t matter whether or not those jobs were created by the gas industry itself — just that those jobs are propped up because of the gas and fracking boom.

“No one has ever said that every single one of those jobs is directly supported by the natural gas industry,” Henderson said. “No one is saying the 18-wheeler delivering sticky buns counts as a natural gas job, however the same driver who has a job delivering sticky buns in Philadelphia also has greater opportunities in Pennsylvania then they did today in their chosen field to work in other areas of the Commonwealth.”

Foran’s article in National Journal admits that fracking and the natural gas industry have created jobs in the state. Its point, however, is that 87 percent of the jobs in that 200,000 figure are “indirect” trucking and construction jobs that economic analysis admitted have only a theoretical relationship with the fracking boom.

The other point is to show how small the natural gas workforce is in Pennsylvania compared to the actual political debate over those jobs in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race. The political debate, Foran says, outweighs the industry’s actual importance in the state, as those jobs only make up 4.2 percent of state employment — even when considering those indirect jobs. This is small compared to other industries such as hospitality, which makes up 9.5 percent of jobs in the state; education and health services, which make up 26.1 percent of jobs in the state; and manufacturing, which makes up 10.2 percent of jobs.

Henderson debated that as well, saying natural gas production’s benefits far outweighed job numbers, citing lower energy costs and increased energy independence, among other things.

“Jobs are a critical aspect of natural gas, but there are other positives of natural gas development,” he said. “We’re seeing that, as a nation, we’re at a low point of carbon emissions, in large part because of the use of natural gas.”

While natural gas does emit less carbon than traditional fossil fuel energy sources, its environmental benefits are still hotly debated. Natural gas is mostly methane, (CH4) a super-potent greenhouse gas which traps 86 times as much heat as CO2 over a 20-year period. A review of more than 200 earlier studies confirms that U.S. emissions of methane are considerably higher than official estimates. And America’s current natural gas system is very leaky, as a recent Stanford study confirmed, casting doubt on the climate benefits of natural gas as “bridge fuel” to more renewable options.

In addition, much of Pennsylvania’s natural gas production is done through fracking, an extremely controversial gas extraction process because of the possibility for environmental pollution. Climate scientists have decried the process because of the massive amount of water required to frack a well, and the possibility of contaminating groundwater. Fracking has been banned in numerous places because of uncertainty over its environmental effects, including Los Angelos, California, and France.

And even though efforts have been made in the United States to decrease carbon emissions as a whole, recent research from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that it hasn’t been enough to fight climate change. The report cites high confidence that emissions from burning fossil fuels and other industrial processes contributed about 78 percent of total greenhouse gas emission increases from 1970 to 2010.