Pa. Gov. Corbett defends his numbers on Marcellus shale drilling jobs |
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Gov. Tom Corbett speaks at his re-election campaign announcement at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh's Strip District on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.

Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday attacked suggestions in recent news reports that he was using inflated job numbers in his re-election campaign to promote the economic successes of the drilling industry.

Corbett reiterated his claims that 200,000 Pennsylvanians have jobs or were “made more prosperous” because of the drilling industry. He said the drilling industry’s successes and low incidence of major accidents have led opponents to stretch for other things that they can criticize.

“It’s kind of strange when I see this opposition,” Corbett said in a 10-minute speech at a drilling industry conference Downtown. “The opponents of drilling have really become what I would call economic change deniers.”

Corbett touted the 200,000 figure when he kicked off his re-election campaign, but economists told the Associated Press and National Public Radio that the number was an optimistic assessment of data from the state Department of Labor and Industry.

They noted that Department of Labor directly credits Marcellus shale drillers with employing 28,155 Pennsylvanians as of early 2013. That’s an increase of 17,414 from the beginning of 2009, as the shale drilling boom took off statewide.

The department does note that 203,814 people are employed in ancillary industries. But that includes just 13,352 new jobs over that four-year period, and a department spokesman told the AP that it wasn’t clear which came from shale drilling and which came from other industries.

The AP and NPR’s StateImpact quoted two economists as saying that Corbett’s claims are optimistic. The spin-off effect — the number of jobs credited to one industry across the wider economy that it influences — rarely goes beyond double of what it grew within its own ranks. Using the standard multiplier of two would mean the drilling industry established about 35,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania, those economists said.

The state’s Independent Fiscal Office released its own figures on Thursday, analyzing state data going back to 2007, when the drilling industry was even smaller in Pennsylvania. It employed just shy of 21,000 in 2012, accounting for about 17,500 new jobs since 2007. The report, Pennsylvania’s Economic & Budget Outlook, noted another 9,300 workers in the pipeline industry, up from 3,000 in 2007. That industry has been importing many workers from other states, according to data released this fall by the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Corbett has been criticized over his administration’s lofty estimates of tax dollars and jobs coming from shale. When he asked lawmakers and voters to support tax breaks for a new gas-fed petrochemical plant last summer, he repeatedly cited industry estimates that it could lead to as many as 20,000 permanent new jobs in the state.

The Tribune-Review reported that he stuck to those numbers in news conferences and on his official Twitter feed even when his own Labor and Industry officials’ research suggested a new petrochemical plant would establish only 6,000 to 8,000 spin-off jobs.

Corbett, who started his re-election bid in the Strip District last week, visited the city again on Thursday to speak at Hart Energy’s DUG East conference on Appalachian shale drilling. About 4,000 people attended the conference in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Corbett spoke to about 1,000 at the morning session and did not take questions.

He told them that diners and hotels are full and that law firms are growing in all the state’s shale drilling hotspots. He asked them to visit Washington and Greene counties, to note the new pickup trucks and tractors and to talk to farmers and truck dealers who have benefited from the money flowing in from gas drilling there.

“Or maybe the next time that a reporter comes to you who wants to quiz you about whether drilling has really created all these jobs, ask them what they would be reporting on if it hadn’t created all those jobs,” Corbett said. “Pennsylvania — the energy industry — is providing opportunity and prosperity across our entire state that is simply undeniable.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or [email protected].

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