Saturday, March 5, 2011

Marcellus boom?

The Charleston Gazette’s outstanding environmental reporter, Ken Ward, whose impeccable investigations of the coal industry have won many awards over the years, has been turning his attention to the Marcellus Shale gas issue lately.

He put up a blog post yesterday highlighting a report from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, that he noted hadn’t got enough attention in the media. The report concludes that there won’t be much of a boom from Marcellus gas; the effect will be much like the coal industry, with profits going to a few and poverty and devastation left behind. From the post:

“Among other things, the center points out that during the time period when the natural gas industry was on the rise in West Virginia (since 2002), the counties that have dominated gas production in our state have nonetheless experienced population loss, lower incomes, higher poverty and less economic diversity.

The report offers some important cautions about the gas boom:
– Annual production from a shale well declines by about 50 percent in the first year alone, and economically recoverable gas production is uncertain beyond five years.
– A boom in activity has a different impact than a slower ramp-up, providing an economic spike that is unlikely to be sustainable in the longer term.
– Expectations of wealth from development of this sort works against diversification and increases the cost of doing business in other industries.
– After the initial boom and construction phase, few jobs remain.

The report advises that state policies that mitigate negative effects on local communities and deal with environmental impacts can help.

And, it concludes that a mineral trust fund that uses revenue from increased severance taxes to promote economic diversity would be a positive step.”

In contrast to Ward’s sharp-eyed look at industry, the ironically named WV Department of Environmental Protection is pulling the same Sergeant Schultz routine (“I see nothing”) on the gas industry that it does with Big Coal.

Unlike Arkansas, which just shut down some hydrofracking operations because their connection to recent earthquakes was too much of a coincidence, West Virginia’s DEP has concluded that “coincidence” is precisely the explanation for some earthquakes in Braxton County near some recently fracked wells. Nothing to see here, people. Move on.

--Michael Hasty

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