Please don't use the F-word

Dec. 1, 2011
With ongoing controversy surrounding the surge of hydraulic fracturing operations that extract natural gas from shale, industries poised to reap the benefits

With ongoing controversy surrounding the surge of hydraulic fracturing operations that extract natural gas from shale, industries poised to reap the benefits have one simple request: Please don't use the F-word. Oil and gas proponents feel that “fracking” sounds too much like the other F-word and lends a negative connotation to what they would like to characterize as a clean, necessary, and job-producing energy source.

I have friends and relatives working in these industries, and suffice it to say that they have been told — in no uncertain terms — not to ever use the F-word. Instead, they are encouraged to refer to the booming field of natural gas production as “an alternate energy source.” That sounds better, almost like alternative energy, conjuring images of solar panels and wind turbines dotting the horizon.

All of this hits close to home. For one, the immense Marcellus Shale deposit runs underneath much of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York, with new hydraulic fracturing wells being installed at breakneck pace. Beyond that, manufacturers supplying machinery and components to the oil and gas industry — and the engineers behind these designs — are among our dear readers. With unemployment hovering around 9% and our economy still feeling the sting of a devastating recession, an economic windfall that supports the power transmission and motion control industry is welcome news.

In Cleveland's Plain Dealer, yesterday's front-page headline read: “Anticipating boom, Republic Steel to invest $85M here, fill 450 jobs.” The news comes three years after Republic had shuttered its blast furnace and cut 700 jobs. Expected growth in the oil and gas industry is a major factor in the company's decision to expand in Lorain, Ohio.

Right next door, U.S. Steel is spending $100 million on plant expansion to manufacture pipes for — you guessed it — oil and gas production. Why? Estimates point to Ohio shale gas producing the equivalent of two billion oil barrels. Timken Co., Canton, Ohio, also hopes to benefit, citing that 20% of its steel sales are to oil and gas companies. The company is deliberating over a $225 million plant expansion.

Occupy protests are spreading across the country, but it seems that economic development such as the natural gas boom is a place where the wealthy 1% and the rest of America can find some common ground. According to a United Steelworkers spokesman, steel jobs pay a livable training wage for the first two years, then about $50,000 per year plus overtime. With all the economic promise of this “alternate energy” source, we can only hope that the EPA will catch up with stringent environmental monitoring and regulations. Otherwise, 100% of us will pay the price with our health.

If you have an opinion on the matter, we'd like to hear it.

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