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Energy sector powers Pa. pace | TribLIVE.com
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Energy sector powers Pa. pace

Chris Fleisher
| Thursday, August 21, 2014 12:01 a.m

Pennsylvania’s economic growth outpaced the national average at the end of the year, suggesting the state’s gas drilling boom may have contributed to the improving performance as cold weather increased demand for natural gas.

It was the first time in five years that Pennsylvania’s fourth-quarter growth exceeded the rest of the nation, according to state-by-state data on gross domestic product released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

While the state ended the year strong, with 3.4 percent growth in the final quarter that outpaced the national average, it lagged the rest of the United States with just a 0.7 percent growth last year in the broad measure of the economy. Other energy-producing states showed the strongest gains.

North Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, Louisiana and Texas had among the biggest increases in GDP growth in 2013, particularly as the country entered a bitterly cold winter in the fourth quarter, the figures show.

Though the energy sector remains relatively small in Pennsylvania, the experience elsewhere suggests the potential if it grows into a bigger part of Pennsylvania’s economy, said Kurt Rankin, an economist with PNC Financial Services.

“Looking at the states that are the fastest growing, the industries that helped them grow, Pennsylvania is on the precipice of one of those big industries, and that’s natural resources development,” Rankin said.

North Dakota, where fracking has driven the economy, led the way with 9.7 percent annual GDP growth and 8.4 percent in the fourth quarter. It was followed by coal-heavy Wyoming, which had annual growth of 7.6 percent and a fourth-quarter gain of 8.4 percent. That compares to a national average of 1.8 percent annual GDP growth in 2013, and 2.8 percent for the fourth quarter.

Wednesday’s report follows one from the Commerce Department two weeks ago that showed consumer spending spiked in states where fracking activity is prominent. Once again, North Dakota led the nation with consumer spending increasing 28 percent between 2009 and 2012.

Mining was the biggest contributor to GDP growth in North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming, the Commerce Department said.

Pennsylvania’s economy is much larger and more diverse than those rural states, and so the impact from mining is less.

Still, natural gas production from the Marcellus shale may have helped boost Pennsylvania’s stronger than average fourth-quarter growth, said Frank Gamrat, of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

“We had a cold December and cold November,” he said. “I think that may have been one of the factors that contributed to that increase.”

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or cfleisher@tribweb.com.

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