PITTSBURGH — Gov. Tom Corbett told an oil and gas industry conference Thursday that opponents of drilling are trying to downplay clear evidence that the shale gas boom is helping Pennsylvania’s economy.
Corbett said drilling opponents suggest that the 20,000 or 30,000 jobs generated directly by the industry “really don’t mean so much” and that there aren’t many additional jobs beyond those.
Corbett launched his re-election campaign last week, and one online ad claimed that the Marcellus shale natural gas industry supports more than 200,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. Some economists said that number was too high. Former President George W. Bush also addressed the conference during a lunch session, but it was closed to reporters.
In his Thursday speech to about 1,500, Corbett modified his language slightly, saying that the 200,000 number includes people who were “made more prosperous” by the boom in shale drilling that began about five years ago. The Marcellus shale extends under large parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York, and now some of the western regions are also beginning to produce oil from another formation, the Utica shale. Corbett said it’s clear that farmers and other residents have benefited from billions of dollars in royalty payments and that law firms and others have hired numerous additional employees. Corbett spoke at the DUG East conference, an industry trade show that highlights oil and gas production in the region.
“The opponents of drilling have really become what I would call economic change deniers,” Corbett said, while also claiming that the industry has complied “very well” with regulations.
“Every once in a while there’s an exception,” he said, adding that the state also has a duty to protect the environment. Erika Staaf, a spokeswoman for PennEnvironment, said in a telephone interview that state regulators don’t have adequate resources to be able to know whether all companies are following regulations. Staaf also said the state’s online lists for drilling industry fines and infractions “are flawed and incomplete.”
Other state and national environmental groups have also been harshly critical of Pennsylvania’s oversight of the drilling boom. Tim Kelsey, director of the Penn State Center for Economic and Community Development, has said Marcellus shale drilling is undoubtedly having a positive employment, wage and income effect on the state, particularly in the counties where drilling is going on.
“What is not clear exactly is how large those effects are,” Kelsey says.