On March 31, 2011, BNE attended a conference hosted by Cornell University in Watkins Glen, NY. The conference was focused on planning for major regional changes that might occur in communities across the state if state government permits the horizontal drilling of Marcellus Shale gas. While this is a very sensitive political topic, the conference (just like BNE’s approach to any economic development opportunity) was entirely apolitical. Rather, it pondered the questions of what is the Marcellus Shale, why is it important to domestic energy production, and if New York permits drilling, how will communities change in terms of employment, aesthetic landscape and ecological diversity?
One thing is certain: the Marcellus Shale has tremendous potential to create new wealth and economic opportunity in upstate New York, especially the Southern Tier. Beyond the land leases and royalty payments to land owners and direct employment from energy and drilling companies, there are a multitude of support industries that can benefit and grow. These include, but are not limited to: trucking companies, railroads, mechanics, machinists, pipe companies, riggers and logging companies.
I have personally seen the indirect economic impact from such efforts. In 2007, while working for the BNSF Railroad, I helped establish a pipe “transload” operation in northern Minnesota where new transmission lines were being built to carry natural gas into the upper Midwest (see photo). The direct employment from this project alone (which is but one component of the natural gas industry) reached several hundred, and numerous small towns in Minnesota reaped the secondary economic benefit. Hotels, restaurants and other service providers were consistently full as work crews progressed the pipeline across the state.
With all of this in mind, the next few months could prove to be pivotal for the future of New York State. The economic benefits of the Marcellus Shale are substantial. As with any energy source and means of production, the main question we all must ponder is whether the environmental trade-offs are worth the economic benefit. I think all of us, as New Yorkers, can sympathize with how complex and important the natural gas permitting decision will be for Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Business Development Manager
Buffalo Niagara Enterprise