Climate Corner: Job creation from fossil fuels – Where’s the beef?
Mar 5, 2022
In a recent opinion piece, the writer asserted the fossil fuel industry has a positive impact on job creation and the economy. This assertion was made without any evidence to support it. Nothing could be further from the truth in the Mid-Ohio Valley. As a capital-intensive industry, the oil and gas business is inherently poor at job creation and contributing to economic growth.
Hydraulic fracturing of natural gas has established well pads, pipelines, processing facilities, and other infrastructure. The shale gas region comprises about 22 counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia; these counties produce about 90% of the gas of the region yet the region trails the nation on key measures of economic prosperity. For example, jobs increased by just 1.6% in the region compared to 8% nationally; the region lost approximately 37,000 residents, while the U.S population grew by 18% in the past decade. Little of the profit from oil and gas has entered the local area; trained workers and service providers are generally from outside the area. The revenue from local natural resources is not returning to Mid-Ohio Valley.
Many of the jobs in oil and gas, particularly in the shale-gas industry are held by outsiders, which has been confirmed with the reports of workers at these sites driving cars with out-of-state license plates. Oil and gas companies should at least be contributing to the local economy through severance taxes, impact fees, and other revenue-generating opportunities that will stay here, benefiting our region and offsetting the health and environmental costs these industries exact upon our population and land.
The recent crisis created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the question of energy sources and energy costs to the forefront. Russia provides 40% of Europe’s natural gas, and according to a recent report (National Memo, Feb. 28, 2022), the threat of a decline in Russian gas has led many Europeans to accelerate their adoption of solar and wind sources of energy–for example, by placing solar panels on the roofs of their houses. If the Europeans accelerate their investment in renewable sources of energy and enhanced power grids, it will eliminate Putin’s strongest non-nuclear weapon.
Solar and wind sources of energy have been described as “intermittent” sources of energy. Recent advances in smart power grids and in battery technology have rendered this criticism moot. If the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining where you are, it is somewhere else and enhanced power grid transmission can get that power to you.
Many of those who advocate for renewable energy acknowledge 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 a sacrifice of significant degradation of human health and environmental degradation.
Last weekend the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Part II of its Sixth Assessment. Among some of their conclusions is the following:
The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future.
There is a case study of economic transformation for the 21st Century from the small city of Centralia, Wash. (in Lewis County–about the same size as Parkersburg and Wood County, respectively). This case study has been documented by two researchers from the Ohio River Valley Institute (Hunkler & O’Leary, https://ohiorivervalleyinstitute.org/2021) with the expectation of applicability to Appalachia. There were two major employers in the city, each owned by the same company: a strip mine and a coal-fired power plant, which employed 600 and 300 workers, respectively. Both of these employers shut down their operations about ten years ago. The community obtained some significant investment funds and embarked on a program to transform their economy by establishing three funds: a community development fund, an energy technology fund, and a weatherization fund. Through these funds, which totaled $55 million, provided by the previous owner of the company that had shuttered its two facilities, the community developed several labor-intensive projects including: new sources of energy (mainly renewable), renovation of residences and businesses for energy efficiency, education and training. These investments led to enrichment of local suppliers, growth in businesses such as HVAC and lighting.
The results of this broad-based and local investment were: a rise in GDP (twice the U.S. rate), increase in the number of jobs (to 2,800, which was an increase of 12% in the total number of jobs in the Centralia area), wage growth, increase in population (in the city and the county), improvement of community health, energy efficiency, and a reduction in the poverty rate in the community.
The need to address climate change is urgent and cannot wait until the fossil-fuel industry declares their readiness to move to renewable sources of energy. What the Mid-Ohio Valley can gain from an accelerated adoption of renewable energy is indeed a stronger, sustainable, locally based economy and job creation for its residents.
George Banziger, Ph..D., was a faculty member at Marietta College and an academic dean at three other colleges. Now retired, he is a volunteer for 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, Citizens Climate Lobby, and the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action team.