The technology is effective, but not necessarily environmentally benign, as drilling a single shaft will use millions of gallons of water and tens of thousands of gallons of various chemicals that could pose a threat to water resources even though "fracking" occurs well below the water table. The new technology will be improved and its impact on the environment carefully monitored as this resource is developed, but it is comforting to know that our energy future is brighter for decades to come.
Western Pennsylvania has benefited from the gas boom. I became an investor in gas wells as part of my retirement investment, as many others did. It was great for a while, when gas sold for as much as $9 per million cubic feet. Now the price is under $3, a huge decline. So I'll have to work longer to beef up my retirement income, but the benefits to this are shared widely. Natural gas prices don't get the media exposure that gasoline does, but millions use natural gas to heat their homes and the cost is down substantially. Gas is now very competitive with coal for generating electricity and much cleaner and environmentally friendly and, in the longer haul, can help keep electricity prices lower.
There are jobs, too. Job creation of course is strongest in the "drilling boom." Once the wells are in place, relatively few people are needed to keep operations running, but there will be a constant source of revenue for the state as natural gas becomes more widely used as a fuel to generate electricity, heat homes, make chemicals, and power vehicles.
According to one industry source, during 2010, Pennsylvania Marcellus natural gas development generated $11 billion in regional gross domestic product, paid more than $1 billion in state and local tax revenues, and supported nearly 140,000 jobs.
Many new firms were created to serve the industry, some were tech firms, but many were more ordinary, providers of jobs and incomes for many individuals (in addition to more business for existing firms).
But that boom may be about over, as falling gas prices make many drilling projects unattractive. Many wells that have been drilled are not yet producing, lacking pipelines to carry the gas.
Many firms sprang up to carry water, process wastewater, house and feed employees, build roads, and otherwise support the companies and workers that have been attracted to the region.
Landowners became millionaires because of the gas under their land and many entrepreneurs became wealthy as well as providing services. But their business activity will fade as drilling activity matures.
Still, our energy future is much brighter now as a result of the entrepreneurial activity of these energy firms, a benefit that we will enjoy for decades to come.
Bill Dunkelberg is a professor of economics at Temple University and a nationally recognized expert in small business. Contact him at email@example.com. Read more of his columns at www.philly.com/dunkelberg