Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Town seeks to leverage Marcellus Shale boom

John Schwartz reports in today's New York Times from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, population 29,534 in the midst of the Marcellus Shale formation that has become a hub of hydro-fracturing activity in the last decade.  Williamsport is the county seat of Lycoming County, which is barely "metropolitan" with a population of 116,747."  In fact, Lycoming County/Williamsport was the seventh fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States in 2010.  Schwartz explains why and how:
The common economic criticism of the drilling industry is that it booms and then busts, generating few local jobs and leaving little lasting economic benefit.
* * *
[Lycoming] county and ... Williamsport, are working diligently to position themselves not just as a host to the arriving companies, but also as a source of local workers for the industry and a long-term beneficiary of its local and national expansion.
Depending on whose estimates you believe, the number of jobs created by the Marcellus Shale extractive activity is between 20,000 and 234,000, with the low-end figure representing less than half a percent of all the state's jobs.  Some of those jobs are high skill, others low, as Schwartz notes that hotels and restaurants have popped up to accommodate the industry's workers.  

But as in other locales where fracking has taken hold, many locals are concerned about the environmental impact of the practice.  Among those in the Williamsport area with such concerns are Anne and Eric Nordell, who have had a 90-acre organic farm about 25 miles from Williamsport, in Trout Run, since the 1980s.  From the high point on their property, drilling rigs and the deforestation that have made way for them, are visible.  Schwartz quotes Ms. Nordell:
We’re just praying that our water will be safe.  ... The first indication that we have any type of contamination, we will shut down.  I eat the food that I grow, and I will not sell anything that’s unsafe.
One part of the Schwartz article contrasts this part of Pennsylvania with the extraction industry boom in North Dakota, which I have written about here.  An earlier post about the Marcellus Shale is here.

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