In a recent opinion piece, the author claimed that the fossil fuel industry has a positive impact on job creation and the economy. This claim was made without any supporting evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth in the Mid-Ohio Valley. As a capital-intensive industry, the oil and gas sector is inherently low in job creation and contributes to economic growth.
Hydraulic fracturing of natural gas has established well pads, pipelines, processing facilities and other infrastructure. The shale gas region includes approximately 22 counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia; these counties produce about 90% of the region’s gas, but the region lags the nation on key measures of economic prosperity. For example, jobs increased by only 1.6% in the region compared to 8% nationally; the region has lost about 37,000 people, while the US population has increased by 18% over the past decade. Few oil and gas profits entered the local area; trained workers and service providers usually come from outside the region. Local natural resource revenues do not flow back into the Mid-Ohio Valley.
Many oil and gas jobs, particularly in the shale gas industry, are held by foreigners, which has been confirmed by reports of workers at these sites driving cars with foreign license plates . Oil and gas companies should at least contribute to the local economy through severance taxes, impact fees and other revenue-generating opportunities that will stay here, benefiting our region and offsetting health and environmental costs. that these industries impose on our people and our lands.
The recent crisis created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the issue of energy sources and energy costs to the fore. Russia provides 40% of Europe’s natural gas and, according to a recent report (National Memo, February 28, 2022), the threat of a decline in Russian gas has led many Europeans to accelerate their adoption of energy sources. solar and wind turbines. for example, by placing solar panels on the roofs of their houses. If Europeans accelerate their investments in renewable energy sources and improved electricity grids, it will eliminate Putin’s most powerful non-nuclear weapon.
Solar and wind energy sources have been described as “intermittent” sources of energy. Recent advances in smart grids and battery technology have rendered this criticism moot. If the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining where you are, it’s somewhere else and improved power grid transmission can provide you with that energy.
Many who advocate renewable energy recognize that there will be an inevitable transition period from fossil fuels (preferably natural gas) to renewable sources. But shale gas advocates who describe this transition in terms of 30 or 50 years are asking for the sacrifice of significant degradation in human health and environmental degradation.
Last weekend, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Part II of its Sixth Assessment. Some of their findings include the following:
The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in anticipated concerted global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to ensure a livable and sustainable future.
There is a case study of the economic transformation for the 21st century of the small town of Centralia, Washington (in Lewis County – about the same size as Parkersburg and Wood County, respectively). This case study was documented by two researchers at the Ohio River Valley Institute (Hunkler & O’Leary, https://ohiorivervalleyinstitute.org/2021) in hopes of applicability to Appalachia. There were two major employers in the town, each belonging to the same company: an open-pit mine and a coal-fired power station, which employed 600 and 300 workers respectively. These two employers closed their doors about ten years ago. The community secured significant investment funds and embarked on a program to transform its economy by creating three funds: a community development fund, an energy technology fund and a weatherization fund. With these funds, which totaled $55 million, provided by the former owner of the company who had closed its two facilities, the community developed several labor-intensive projects, including: new sources (mainly renewables), renovation of residences and businesses for energy efficiency, education and training. These investments have led to the enrichment of local suppliers, the growth of activities such as HVAC and lighting.
The results of this widespread and local investment have been: an increase in GDP (twice the US rate), an increase in the number of jobs (to 2,800, a 12% increase in the total number of jobs in the region of Centralia), wage growth, increased population (in the city and county), improved community health, energy efficiency, and a reduction in the poverty rate in the community.
The need to tackle climate change is urgent and cannot wait for the fossil fuel industry to declare its readiness to switch to renewable energy sources. What the Mid-Ohio Valley can gain from accelerated adoption of renewable energy is indeed a stronger, sustainable, local economy and job creation for its residents.
George Banziger, Ph.D., was a faculty member at Marietta College and dean of studies at three other colleges. Now retired, he volunteers with Mid-Ohio Valley Interfaith and Harvest of Hope. He is a member of the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, the Citizens Climate Lobby, and the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action team.