Event Reports

A closer look at the impact of the shale gas boom on local U.S. economies

by Jeanene Lairo

Experts of the Transatlantic Climate Bridge meet with Dr. Christoph von Friedeburg

On June 18th, 2015, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation hosted a discussion on Dr. Christoph v. Friedeburg’s paper “Broken Promises: Impacts of Pennsylvania’s Shale Gas Boom on Local Economies” (March 2015). The attendees discussed Mr. Friedeburg’s report, examined the fracking debate from transatlantic perspectives, and discussed other energy issues, with an emphasis on renewable and sustainable energy sources.

The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung organized a roundtable discussion of the Transatlantic Climate Bridge. Participants included experts from NGOs, think tanks and a former U.S. Congressman, Russ Carnahan (Democrat from Missouri). Dr. von Friedeburg presented the findings of his paper on the U.S. state of Pennsylvania’s shale gas boom and its impact. In his report, he concludes that the economic benefits of fracking in Pennsylvania are much lower than commonly portrayed. During the discussion, several participants raised their concerns about the short-term nature of the fracking industry, whether it be in terms of well lifespan, seasonal increases in jobs or economic growth. The lack of regulations and legislation has not translated into investments and long-term economic and social development projects for communities in Pennsylvania.

Another discussion theme concerned how fracking has wide-ranging, multiple level impacts at the national and international level. During the discussion it was pointed out that there are many benefits that accrue from the shale gas boom for the U.S. economy, which include moving to energy independence. Fracking in the U.S. has also redefined the geopolitics of energy on the international stage. One of the experts outlined international implications of the report, in particular its potential to impact discussions in Latin America, Europe, and Asia on fracking as a source of energy and economic growth. He also emphasized the benefits of increasing energy efficiency and how greater political emphasis on improving energy efficiency would allow for greater “energy independence” which would benefit the environment.

According to former Congressman Russ Carnahan shale gas should be viewed as a “bridge fuel” in the transitional phase of moving from fossil fuel dependence to a more sustainable energy mix. He also shared his opinion that current local discussion of fracking is heavily influenced by advertisement. A more fair and honest discussion of the subject could be enhanced by input from community experiences and backed up by empirical, data-driven information, such as presented in Dr. v. Friedeburg’s paper.

Dr. v. Friedeburg’s report dealt exclusively with the fracking experience in Pennsylvania, whereas other states might present different conclusions. It was highlighted during the discussion that there are political obstacles that prevent a thorough discussion on the negative impacts of fracking in the United States. There is a tendency to seek short-term benefits rather than develop long-term solutions to energy and employment challenges.

On the transatlantic front, the participants explored differences in the U.S. and German approaches to energy. Another discussant suggested that fracking is here to stay and that policy-makers and environmental groups ought to focus their attention on regulating fracking. The effect would be to limit human and environmental damage and ensure economic benefits to the communities where the extraction is taking place. Further discussions also included the usage of biomass fuels, coal, and solar power.

It is the intent of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung to promote such transatlantic dialogue to foster a deeper understanding of critical issues, such as fracking, where strong divergence of opinions often exists.