Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
The NY-PA borderland otherwise known as the Twin Tiers demonstrates beyond any doubt what a difference natural gas development makes.
A rather long, and surprisingly pretty balanced, article appeared over the weekend in The Buffalo News comparing and contrasting Pennsylvania and New York’s approach to the issue of shale drilling. The reporter actually talked to a number of sources on both sides of the drilling issue and wrote a good article that presents the facts of the economic miracle happening in PA, and the economic misery happening in upstate NY because of our state’s dithering.
You can tell this article about the borderland is a good one when the cadre of about a half dozen anti-drillers (pathetic people with no lives apart from opposing drilling) flock to the comments to condemn the article and condemn those who dare to post a positive comment about drilling.
Borderland – A Modern Day Tale of Two Cities
The article opens with the classic tale of two cities theme, comparing the fortunes (or lack thereof) of two farmers on opposite sides of the NY/PA border.
The sprawling hillside dairy farms of Neil Vitale and Jim Van Blarcom seemed to be, for 3½ decades, reflections of one another on opposite sides of the New York-Pennsylvania border.
But over the past four years, Vitale and Van Blarcom have come to live in different economic worlds.
Vitale’s Organic Farm, located in New York’s Steuben County and beset by what its owner calls high taxes and a regulation-happy state government, has shrunk in size by almost 30 percent. He’s had to sell off land to stay afloat – and it wouldn’t have happened, he said, if the state had let him cash in on the riches buried thousands of feet beneath his property.
“I probably have millions of dollars of natural gas under my feet here,” Vitale said, “and I have to heat my house with wood.”
Those same riches – the natural gas reserves of the Marcellus Shale – also lay beneath Van Blarcom’s Sugar Branch farms 50 miles to the southeast in Columbia Crossroads, Pa. There, the Pennsylvania state government permits Van Blarcom to sell his mineral rights and enjoy a windfall that has allowed him to expand his farm fivefold since 2009.
“I feel blessed,” Van Blarcom said. “What are the odds of being alive and owning real estate now when this gas has been here 350 million years?”
Vitale and Van Blarcom are living symbols of two hard facts.
For areas willing to accept the environmental risk, “fracking” means money and jobs, at least for a while.
And for a long time now, upstate New York – an economic laggard for decades – has been missing out on it all.
In New York’s Southern Tier, where the gas extraction method called hydraulic fracturing remains barred by a state moratorium dating back to 2008, federal labor statistics show that four contiguous gas-rich counties lost 4,945 jobs between September 2009 and September 2013.
Meanwhile, in the four counties of Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier with the most fracked gas wells, 7,978 jobs have been created, and nearly half – 3,893 – appear to be directly related to fracking.
On top of that, per capita income in those Pennsylvania counties leaped 19 percent in the four years ending last September, compared with only 9 percent in the four New York counties, a Buffalo News analysis of economic reports shows.
Yet, if you put aside the rhetoric from both sides in the fractious fracking debate and look just at the statistics in the areas with the most fracking activity, energy analysts and economists say it’s clear that New York’s fracking moratorium has cost the state jobs, economic development and tax revenue that Pennsylvania won.
“The only thing New York is doing is choosing to ship jobs and business to Pennsylvania,” said Jack Weixel, energy analyst for Bentek Energy, a research firm that analyzes natural gas market trends.
The Stark Jobs Contrast in Borderland
The article continues with some hard-core numbers relating to jobs and how they differ so widely, depending on which side of the border one is on.
The contrast between New York’s Southern Tier and Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier stretches far beyond the farms. A Buffalo News analysis of federal jobs and economic data shows two entire regions headed in separate directions.
Collectively, New York’s Steuben, Chemung, Tioga and Broome counties lost 2.7 percent of their jobs in the four-year period that ended last September, according to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meanwhile, the most heavily fracked counties in northeastern Pennsylvania – Tioga, Lycoming, Bradford and Susquehanna – saw the number of jobs increase 8.6 percent. In those New York counties in February, the unemployment rate ranged from a low of 8.2 percent in Broome County to a high of 9.1 percent in Steuben County.
In contrast, unemployment fell under 7.5 percent in three of the four counties studied in Pennsylvania.
Economists chalk up those differences to two more important numbers. Thanks to the environmentally driven moratorium on fracking in New York, the number of newly fracked wells in the state is zero. In the four gas-rich counties of Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier, that number is 3,648.
Hydraulic fracturing – where wells are drilled more than a mile deep, then turned horizontally into a hard shale that must be fractured with blasts of water, sand and chemicals – has allowed a billion barrels of crude oil to be extracted from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, the nation’s biggest oil find ever. Meanwhile, dozens of states – including earthquake-prone California – have embraced fracking to various degrees to extract natural gas.
In New York, the story is very different. There, at least 177 communities and counties have banned hydraulic fracturing, which has been been subject to a “temporary” statewide moratorium since 2008 while the state Department of Environmental Conservation studies whether fracking is safe.
The Department of Health is doing a separate study now, too. And together, it’s all too much for the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc., a 77,000-member-strong group that recently sued Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo along with the two state agencies in hopes of forcing the state to make the to-frack-or-not-to-frack decision.
To finish reading the (long) article, and to view some of the wacky comments by anti-drillers, read A Border Tale of Boom and Bust (Buffalo News – May 10, 2014).
Editor’s Note: There’s a whole lot less bust and a lot more boom (let’s call it sustainability) than the writer of the Buffalo News piece would have one believe, and he quoted several anti-fracking sources all funded by the same special interest foundations, but, overall, he did a good job and that’s a subject for another day anyway.