America’s shale oil and natural gas industries could lead to massive job growth in this country and produce millions of jobs over the next decade. Just ask the folks from North Dakota where once sleepy, rural towns are now experiencing a job boom reminiscent of the gold rush days of the 1800s. Not only is unemployment the lowest in the country at 3%, the average oil and gas salary in North Dakota is $90,000 a year and people in fast food restaurants are making $20 dollars an hour.
States such as North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are using new hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” technologies to extract natural gas from deep under thousands of feet of shale rock. Fracking is one of the most remarkable breakthroughs in the energy exploration business in the last 50 years. It not only has reduced America’s foreign oil consumption from 60% in 2005 to 47% in 2010 and made the U.S. the largest natural gas producer in the world. The natural gas and oil sector has created over 1.5 million jobs since that time. In addition, recent analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers states that more than 1 million jobs could be produced in the manufacturing industry alone by 2025 to support the demand to produce the equipment used to extract the gas. This does not even include the service and construction jobs that will be produced to support these workers and industries.
Could states like North Dakota lead the country to increased prosperity and keep the economy out of another recession? North Dakota is among the five fastest growing states in terms of percent increase – along with Texas, Utah, Alaska, and Colorado. All of these states have strong job growth and are experiencing energy booms. Significant economic investment in shale industries is also occurring in other states that have large natural gas reserves. The Marcellus Shale formation which runs through from southern New York through Pennsylvania and into parts of West Virginia and Maryland is believed to be the second largest natural gas deposit in the world and could be produce huge economic returns. These could mean thousands of high paying jobs over the next couple of years.
In addition to driving job creation, shale gas recovery can be the game-changer to the U.S. becoming more energy independent and result in lower energy costs to American consumers. In fact, the U.S. has now become a net exporter of fuel for the first time in nearly 20 years. There are however several factors that could hinder this new energy development; these include regulatory obstacles, environmental concerns, and increased government intervention.
As with any boom, there are potential problems and the jury is still out on the health risks as a result of all this new drilling. Protests of hydraulic fracturing drilling have sprung up throughout the country. These are mostly in response to concerns over the environmental impact in the communities where fracking is largely taking place, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. The largest concern is on the potential to impact local drinking supplies. The risk is that the chemicals used in the fracking process will flow back into the local aquifers and contaminate the drinking water. Other concerns are on the impact to the landscapes and the air quality where the drilling is occurring. This type of new drilling does leave a footprint and can impact local ecosystems. There will continue to be vigorous debate regarding these matters going forward; nevertheless, the prospective job growth from shale oil and gas exploration in this country is undeniable. Could the country’s next gold rush be upon us?
- Rocky Fullerton is a veteran of the energy industry and has more than 15 years’ experience in developing and deploying Information Technology and Smart Grid focused solutions. http://rfenergy.wordpress.com/