Friday, September 02, 2011

Wheeling Economic Boom

Wheeling, West Virginia? Yes, Wheeling, West Virginia is in the midst of a boom. The Wall Street Journal is making the assertion:

Now for a good energy news story. I recently traveled to Wheeling, W.V., which is 45 minutes down the road from Pittsburgh along the Ohio River and smack in the heart of the old Rust Belt. Unlike most places you go to these days, the town is booming. Defying the national mood, people are optimistic about the future. Why? It's what residents are calling the "West Virginia gold rush."

Emphasis added. That might be news even for the people residing in Wheeling. The WSJ is using the Marcellus Shale hype to attack President Obama's energy policies. Two can play that game:

Remember Michele Bachmann’s critique of President Obama’s energy policy? “We have resources from coal to oil to natural gas,” she said. “The problem is, under the EPA, they’ve been busy locking up (supplies), especially under President Obama.” Now, the Interior Department controls oil and gas leases, not the EPA, but never mind. Obama, the argument goes, is preventing us from harnessing our vast oil supplies.

But is this actually true? Not according to the [chart on the right], courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. The number of rigs in the United States has been soaring during the Obama years. Oil drilling is up nearly 60 percent in the past year alone. True, it’s hard to credit Obama specifically with that frenzy. As the Journal notes, the main contributing factors are better drilling technology and high crude prices, both of which make it possible — and profitable — for companies to tap new reserves in North Dakota, Texas, Ohio and elsewhere. Bottom-scraping natural gas prices have also prodded energy companies to shift their focus to oil. But in any case, Obama doesn’t seem to be hindering a boom in oil production.

It's an odd political narrative. Out of one side of your mouth you tout the spectacular dividends stemming from Marcellus Shale drilling. Out of the other side, you blame Obama for killing the goose that continues to lay golden eggs. Wheeling is booming. Don't vote for Democrats.

Republicans are trying to reclaim the Drill Baby Drill high ground with wild claims about incredible job growth and cheap petrol if we could just get Obama out of the way. That makes me uncomfortable because it suggests that the GOP likes how the shale gas debate is playing out in Pennsylvania. Not a week goes by without the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) bungling the public relations campaign in support of industry. Worse is the state executive. There doesn't seem to be any fear of retribution for incompetence or outright lying to build public support.

My unease is spilling over into my enjoyment of the Pittsburgh Quarterly. I received the latest issue earlier this week. All the beautiful pro shale gas industry ads have me questioning the integrity of the journalism. Can I trust Seamus McGraw to weigh both sides of the story? I support the extraction of shale gas. The antics of the MSC and the GOP have me rethinking that position.

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