North Dakota boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. Texas is outpacing the United States as a whole in job growth. Pennsylvania added 1,300 manufacturing jobs in March alone.
What do these states have in common besides enviable job numbers? Oil and natural gas exploration. The domestic energy boom is fueling a jobs boom.
But if some activists get their way, all these jobs could disappear.
The stakes are high. Employment in the oil and gas sector has jumped by 40 percent since 2007. Other private-sector employment, meanwhile, has grown at a sluggish 1 percent since then. The rapid growth of energy jobs has contributed to a better-than-expected April jobs report and is revitalizing communities across the nation.
In states rich with natural gas and oil, new pathways to the middle class are opening up. More energy exploration means an increased demand for rig workers and welders, geologists and engineers. The average oil and gas industry worker earns nearly $97,000 yearly, more than double the average American wage.
The oil and gas boom is also boosting hiring in other sectors of the economy. Increased oil and gas production requires new infrastructure — resulting in jobs for construction workers and manufacturers. Oil and gas also needs to be moved to market, which requires more truck drivers and shipyard and railroad workers.
In all, the gas and oil sector directly and indirectly supports nearly 10 million American jobs.
At the heart of this energy boom is a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” This process injects large volumes of water, chemicals and sand into wells under high pressure to break apart rock and release once unreachable deposits of oil and gas.
The basic elements of fracking technology have been around for 50 years, but advances in its application have opened up vast new reserves. Fracking opponents argue that the technology uses too much scarce freshwater and could contaminate ground water sources. Both claims are false — contradicted by the research of both independent experts and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Fracking represents just 0.3 percent of all U.S. freshwater consumption. Compared to other activities we engage in every day, fracking is hardly a water hog. Car washes, golf courses, and farming all use more water than fracking.
What’s more, energy derived from fracking actually uses water more efficiently than other major energy sources. According to University of Texas researchers, natural gas power plants use 50 percent less water than coal-fired plants, even accounting for the water lost in fracking.
As for the claims anti-fracking activists have made about groundwater pollution, they are pure Hollywood sensationalism. Activists have circulated tales of flaming faucets and poisoned wells. Yet in the words of Lisa Jackson, the former head of the EPA: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” Numerous state regulatory officials have reached the same conclusion.
Fracking techniques are typically employed at depths a mile or more of impenetrable rock below drinking-water supplies. The fracturing fluid injected into that rock is mostly water and sand — 99.5 percent — plus a few additives like “guar,” an emulsifying agent also used in ice cream. The mix poses no danger.
The U.S. is now a net energy exporter, and the jobs boom from fracking is lifting America out of a recession. The activists have their facts wrong: Fracking is a safe way to power our economy.
Parker Hallam is co-founder and president of Crude Energy.