Shale Boosts US Economy from Coast to Coast

Source: Julia Bell, Energy InDepth  (2/10/12)

"The economic growth emanating from developing natural gas from shale is not limited solely to those areas lucky enough to have the formations underneath them."


We all know that responsible oil and natural gas production has been an economic boon to regions across the country, from communities throughout Pennsylvania benefiting from Marcellus Shale development to the rapidly expanding housing business in south Texas. And, of course, North Dakota boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the country, thanks in large part to the development of the Bakken Shale.

But the story doesn't end there. Indeed, as The Wall Street Journal highlights this week, the economic growth emanating from developing natural gas from shale is not limited solely to those areas lucky enough to have the formations underneath them:

The economic benefits of rising energy production are spreading far beyond the traditional oil patch, to Ohio and Pennsylvania, Nebraska and New York, North Carolina and Idaho. Truck drivers from pretty much anywhere can find work related to the surging energy business. Private-equity firms completed $24.8 billion of energy deals of all types last year, up from $8.5 billion in 2010, according to data tracker Preqin. Manufacturing plants are returning to the U.S. to take advantage of cheap natural gas, spurring major investments in petrochemical and steel production in the Gulf Coast and Midwest.

Landowners in huge swaths of the country where shale is found are raking in money for leasing their mineral rights. Consumers throughout the U.S. are paying lower bills for heating and electricity because of cheap natural gas. Even the U.S. balance of payments with other countries is improving because of the new energy economy.

"This is probably the biggest stimulus we have going," says Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, a consultant based in Amherst, Mass. Some $145 billion will be spent drilling and completing U.S. wells this year, up from $13 billion in 2000, estimates Spears & Associates Inc., an oil-field market research firm.

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The growth in energy exploration and production is due to the widespread use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Horizontal drilling allows energy companies to extract gas and oil up to a mile away from the actual well. Meanwhile, fracking—which involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals to break open dense rocks and release hydrocarbons—has enabled the industry to tap into energy-rich shale formations once overlooked by petroleum geologists.

In Nancy County, Nebraska—a largely agricultural county west of Omaha—demand has picked up so much for the area's sand deposits that a local company has expanded its workforce by nearly ten-fold. As a member of the county board of supervisors described the situation, "This deal here is like winning the lottery." Similarly, in western Wisconsin, the number of sand mines has increased substantially, creating over 1,000 jobs in just the past four months.

Of course, as the Journal also highlights, areas that have a long history of oil and natural gas development are also reaping significant benefits. (Houston became the first major metropolitan area to regain all of the jobs it lost during the recession, thanks to increased exploration for oil and natural gas in shale.) But these benefits extend beyond job creation and (enormous) economic growth:

Beyond simply adding jobs, communities from Pennsylvania and Ohio to Colorado and Texas that are home to this energy boom are experiencing a new emotion: optimism. Jeff Dahl, chief executive of MTR Gaming Group Inc., which operates a casino and resort in Wheeling, W.Va., says he is seeing consumer confidence rising as landowners get leasing bonuses of thousands of dollars and companies compete for workers.

"People are beginning to believe this is a game changer for the region," says Mr. Dahl. The result is more spending on dining out and entertainment.

It's little wonder, then, why investment in shale grew by 55% last year, not to mention why President Obama has taken notice of shale in a big way.

Of course, this economic revival is also paving the way to increased energy security, as domestic output of oil and natural gas reach new highs and reliance on OPEC becomes less necessary. Turns out we're producing so much that energy prices are falling, which means consumers pay less for utility bills and manufacturers can invest more in the United States. . .all of which, in turn, means more capital to invest in U.S. businesses and the ability to create even more U.S. jobs.

- Energy InDepth

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