BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (AP) — Businesses ranging from wildlife consultants to titans of the oil and gas industry will gather in Binghamton for New York's first shale gas job fair, buoyed by hopes that state regulators will lift a four-year-old ban and start permitting hydraulic fracturing this year.
"I'm optimistic in saying the industry will be working in New York state fairly soon under some very well-thought-out regulations and oversight," said Broome County Legislator Steve Herz, an organizer of the event at Broome Community College on Wednesday.
But even while shale gas drilling has been on hold in New York, companies and workers in the state's Southern Tier have benefited from the gas boom 20 miles south of Binghamton in Pennsylvania.
"Neil Guiles of Vestal Asphalt is a perfect example of a New York company benefiting from what's happening in Pennsylvania," Herz said. "His business has tripled and he's made major capital investments."
While thousands of wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania since the Marcellus Shale gas boom began about five years ago, New York hasn't allowed development to proceed in its part of the gas-rich shale formation that also underlies parts of Ohio and West Virginia.
Tapping the gas requires horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which made it economically feasible to extract oil and gas from shale. Concerns about potential contamination of New York City's water supply led to a ban in 2008 while regulations were updated to address the impacts of fracking, which unlocks trapped gas by injecting a well with millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand.
While industry proponents tout the benefits of shale gas — including jobs, local tax revenues, economic development and cheap homegrown energy — a broad opposition movement paints a bleak picture of adverse health impacts, an industrialized landscape and a boom-bust economy.
A study by Penn State Extension and Penn College found that each Marcellus gas well generates 12 full-time jobs for at least 20 years. But it cautioned against focusing only on jobs or tax revenue from gas drilling. It said no economic study has included the potential costs, such as the impact on existing businesses losing employees and costs of environmental damage and cleanup.
Still, New York counties along the Pennsylvania border in the "sweet spot" of the shale gas boom are reaping the benefits. Chemung County Executive Thomas Santulli notes that the county has avoided property tax increases for seven years and leads the state in the growth of sales tax and hotel tax revenue thanks to Pennsylvania gas workers filling the county's hotels, bars and stores.
The list of participants in Wednesday's job fair reflects some of the businesses outside the energy industry that benefit directly when new wells are drilled.
Wildlife Specialists of Wellsboro, Pa., employs herpetologists, mammal experts, wetland specialists and other scientists who do habitat assessments and endangered species surveys at gas well and pipeline sites. Hydrograss Corp. does construction site erosion control and reseeding.