Some have asked whether I agree with the story earlier in the week on the size of the energy industry in the region. I have not read it in detail, but without getting into any specific numbers sure I do. Energy has long been a huge part of the regional economy. One can argue energy is what we really always were good at. Without the coal, there would have been no steel and so forth and so on. But it goes far beyond that if you connect the dots as I wrote years ago in Energy Burgh.
The funny thing is that when I wrote that I really had folks Downtown laugh at me. It was the past was the message, not the future. For much a decade, other than some interest in ‘clean coal’, energy was not a focus of development. It was all talk of ‘high tech’ (pick your definition), biotech in particular, ‘advanced’ manufacturing (I’m not sure there is anything other than ‘advanced’ manufacturing still surviving these days) and until the bankruptcies of USAirways, air transportation. Remember when air transportation was going to ‘replace steel’ which was as stilly a concept then as it is now. Talk of energy was ‘quaint’ as literally put to me. That general apathy was the main reason I felt compelled to write that piece.
The irony is that if you go back and look at the date of the oped.. 2005. That must have been awfully close to the time some meeting somewhere was going on starting with “you know, we can get natural gas out of the shale in Pennsylvania”. Funny how disruptive things work. Just wait until the ‘greater’ Pittsburgh geothermal industry kicks in which will likely all center on fracking as well and found with Google’s help. Nothing happens on it’s own. It’s all interconnected.
One thing I mentioned in that article which didn’t plan out was the whole fuel cell project that did not pan out. At the time it was the biggest thing on the horizon. The fuel cells Siemens was working on were to be powered by natural gas for the most part. Even in failure, the fuel cell story is a lot more important than it may ever seem. Pittsburgh beat out intense competition for the fuel cell investment from locations in Florida, but more intense competition from Ross Perot who was pushing for the site to go to Texas and clearly put more money on the table at the time. Yet sheer money didn’t win in that decision which says a lot. In the end the market could not quite support what they were trying to do and they could not quite get their manufacturing costs low enough to make the product, mostly intermediate sized stationary fuel cells, viable. In some counterfactual world, if the decline in natural gas prices had come a bit earlier, maybe we could have added a growing fuel cell industry to the region as well. Think what the regional ‘energy story’ would have been. Alas.
The site that was to be the fuel cell manufacuting operation? Taken over by US Steel for research. Again, the more things change……
So is the local energy industry all or even mostly shale gas. Clearly no. Is the increase in jobs or output reported in the story all shale related. Probably not either. Check out the story on the gubenatorial election in WV decided this week. In it is this quote:
But the rising price of coal has boosted the state’s economy, giving it a lower unemployment rate than the nation at large and allowing Mr. Tomblin to boast of a state budget surplus in contrast to the fiscal straits of some of its neighbors.