The economic benefits of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale are a fraction of what drillers claim, according to a recent statement from a Harrisburg-based think thank. A group of drillers, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, responded to the statement with a list of employment and tax data supporting their claims that the drilling is responsible for an economic boom in some regions of the state.

Fighting between the two groups is heating up as the General Assembly considers legislation to charge drillers a fee that will be split between local governments hosting the drilling and environmental funds.

The left-leaning Keystone Research Center issued a statement saying that between late 2007 and 2010, the Marcellus Shale boom created fewer than 10,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania, “much less than the 48,000 figure reported in recent news stories, statements and commentaries.”

The statement went on to say that those recent reports with exaggerated claims about Marcellus job creation rely on data about “new hires,” which are not the same as new jobs. “New hires” track additions to employment but not separations due to resignations, firings or replacements.

“The number of new hires by itself tells half the story and is not a meaningful indicator of job creation,” said Stephen Herzenberg, PhD, Executive Director of the Keystone Research Center. “You have to also look at the number of people who leave jobs.”

The Executive Director of the Coalition, Kathryn Klaber, shot back that the statement from Keystone was “yet another thinly-veiled, politically-timed attack on an industry that is creating family-sustaining jobs for men and women across the Commonwealth.”

“According to the Department of Labor and Industry, unemployment in counties with Marcellus development remains below the state average,” the statement from the Coalition said. “Along Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier, where development is most concentrated, employment has jumped 1,500 percent since the end of 2007. Furthermore, Marcellus operators are investing billions of dollars into Pennsylvania’s economy – from constructing state-of-the-art operating facilities, to building new offices, to leasing land for responsible development and driving economic growth in our rural  communities.”