Thursday, May 29, 2014

Keeping the Economy Afloat

Question: How bad would our economy be were it not for the boom in shale oil production? William C. Triplett II gives us a pretty good idea in a column in which he discusses some of the less obvious economic benefits of the fracking technology that has enabled us to tap into petroleum reserves heretofore inaccessible to drillers.

Triplett says this:
At the end of April, three things happened more or less simultaneously: First, the Obama administration announced that in the first quarter of 2014, growth of the overall U.S. gross domestic product had fallen to barely 0.1 percent, and more than 800,000 Americans left the workforce in the month of April alone. Second, The Associated Press reported that also during the first quarter of 2014, the Bakken Shale oil field in North Dakota and Montana had reached 1 billion barrels of oil production. Third, led by Brett Baier and the Fox News Channel, commentators are beginning to ask this important question: If you subtract the contribution that the shale revolution is making to the overall U.S. economy, what happens?
Triplett's answer is pretty simple: disaster. In other words, the only reason our economy hasn't fallen through the basement is the benefits accruing to the country from oil drilling, i.e. fracking.
Gene Lockard of reports that the nonfarm economy lost 3.25 million jobs from January 2008 to February 2014 while the oil and gas sector expanded employment by 26 percent. Second, he notes that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the oil and gas multiplier effect is 6.9. That means that every job in oil and gas supports 6.9 jobs throughout the rest of the economy. Likewise, a dollar spent in the oil patch turns over 6.9 times, sort of like a rock thrown into a pond as the ripples widen.

In order to build the rigs necessary to drill the petroleum steel pipe must be manufactured and transported to the site. The machines used must be manufactured and transported. All of these needs create jobs.

Caterpillar is a brand you see all over the oil patch, and last year Caterpillar sold $4.5 billion worth of equipment to the energy and transportation sector. General Electric is a major player in the shale revolution and getting bigger. Caterpillar and GE industrial products are sourced from plants all over the country.
There's more:
In the shale, you can’t avoid seeing an ocean of new white pickups. They may have been assembled in Kansas City (Ford) or Michigan (GM and Dodge) but the parts — tires, glass, brakes, steel, aluminum, plastics — come from all over North America. Everyone benefits — design, parts, assembly, transportation and sales.
And this doesn't count the restaurants, motels, clothing dealers, building contractors, and on and on who benefit from the influx of workers.

Triplett asks how this will all look in the future and says that there are two numbers to look at:
First,... the oil patch [industry} will have to spend $641 billion directly over the next 20 years on infrastructure to support the shale-drilling operation. That’s just the infrastructure to deal with the oil and gas once it is produced, not the tens of billions directly going into the drilling operation itself.

Second, $125 billion: That’s IHS Chemicals’ estimate of the shale-related chemical plants going in, and “more to come,” as it told The Wall Street Journal. A lot of this money will be spent along the I-10 corridor between Houston and Baton Rouge, but a new multibillion-dollar chemical plant is going in just below Parkersburg, W.Va., and Shell has an option on a site north of Pittsburgh that would be of comparable size.

All of this is the best news possible for American young people now in high school and college, worried about their future. Nearly all the traditional colleges with oil and gas departments are expanding their programs — the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, Rice University, the University of Houston, LSU, Oklahoma, Tulsa and Penn State, to name a few.
Neither the Obama administration in particular, nor government in general, has anything whatever to do with the economic benefit of fracking trickling down to the American people. It's all being done by private enterprise. On the other hand, one can't help but think that if the current administration could they'd do to the fracking industry what they're doing to the Keystone pipeline and the coal industry, i.e. kill it altogether. This, however, would be a disaster for the country. As Triplett says in his last line the American shale revolution is keeping the entire U.S. economy from spinning into recession and despair.