Friday, August 15, 2008

Marcellus Shale Diaspora

On a flight from Pittsburgh to Denver, I sat next to a young man who made his living working on various oil drilling projects that often sent him well beyond his home base in Colorado. He was on leave from a job in Southwestern Pennsylvania, which is why this article in the Washington Post caught my eye:

The Pennsylvania fossil-fuel boom points to a broader national reality: The old energy sources come from mature industries that have the infrastructure, know-how and capital to put a big drilling rig in a hayfield at the snap of a finger. Oil and gas companies also benefit from a federal tax incentive, dating to 1918, that allows companies early deductions for "intangible drilling costs."

My first read of the story sparked a blog post about another common thread that could string together an economically coherent region, in this case the map of the extent of the Marcellus Shale. The Marcellus Shale is the location of this "old energy source" that resulted in a temporary migration of labor from Colorado to Pennsylvania. I intended to add geology to my case for Cleveburgh, but I kept finding other tangents to explore.

The more compelling theme is one of geographic comparative advantage that is re-emerging. Needed workers can be flown in, but the infrastructure to exploit the opportunity is not so easily generated. That the know-how and capital are also still amply present in the Rust Belt is more than a bit ironic. But living in the Inter-Mountain West, I'm aware of the perils of embracing the boom-bust commodity economy. The financial windfall needs to be invested in less ephemeral development. Luckily, the Marcellus Shale region also has the infrastructure, know-how and capital to do that as well.

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