Will New York be next for the fracking-fueled job boom?

A hydraulic fracturing site. A fracking-fueled job boom has erupted in parts of the U.S. and wages of gas workers have increased. But in New York fracking is banned. That hasn’t stopped an upstate New York school from offering training courses for work in gas fields, because many expect Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lift the ban.

Natural gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is banned in New York State. But that hasn’t stopped an upstate New York educational organization from offering training courses for work in natural gas fields.

For $1,000, students can enroll in the five week Gas Industry Careers course that teaches technical skills used in natural gas extraction, like basic welding and rough terrain forklift driving.

Dick Lindhorst, coordinator of adult job training for the Broome-Tioga Board of Education Services, says job seekers in his region near the Pennsylvania border will be prepared when the fracking ban is lifted – and he’s confident it soon will be.

“Certainly any jobs at this point particularly those that pay above the normal level will help,” Lindhorst said, referring to the challenging job market.

The average weekly income for a worker in oil and gas extraction is $1,576, according to the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a 21% increase from July 2007 – before the recession and the oil and gas booms in places like North Dakota and Pennsylvania.

The income for oil and gas workers is also the highest of any job in the BLS’s mining and logging category. In fact, it’s part of the reason that mining and logging is a higher paying industry sector than financial activities, according to the BLS. Employees in financial activities include accountants, bank tellers, and commodities sales agents, among others.

In a similar vein, Bloomberg reported today that graduates of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology are now earning more out of college than those from Harvard.

Lindhorst is not the only one who believes that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will lift the state’s ban on fracking – a process which injects high pressure water and chemicals deep underground in order to get at the gas inside of rock formations.

“We always like to say when not if,” said Cherie Messore, spokesperson for the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York. She added that, if fracking is allowed in the five-county region that sits above the Marcellus Shale in upstate New York, up to 18,000 direct and indirect jobs could be added.

Similar job booms have occurred in other states as fracking has been adopted into the natural gas extraction arsenal. You can find Marketplace stories from the past year about North Dakota’s fracking driven job growth here from Stacey Vanek Smith, and here from Ann Carrns.

Despite a prediction of new jobs, Cuomo is not indicating if or when his administration will lift the ban. He is waiting for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to complete a study on whether fracking in New York could be done safely. The Ithaca (NY) Journal reported last week that he had “no immediate plans for a decision on whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in New York.”

In January, the EPA sent a list of regulatory recommendations to New York state. Echoing the concern of fracking opponents, it focused on groundwater contamination. It said, for example, that area residents should “choose the water testing firm to sample their own water and the drilling companies should be required to pay the cost.”

Messore said accusations of groundwater contamination are unfounded, and pointed to remarks last spring from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson who said she was not aware of any proven cases of this happening. In those remarks, however, Jackson added that “investigations are ongoing.”

Lindhorst, for his part, maintains that even with the ban in place, it’s a good idea to train New Yorkers for relatively high-paying work in the gas fields, because they can cross the state line to work in Pennsylvania.

“The pay is significantly higher than in normal construction,” he said.

About the author

Karl Baker joined Marketplace in January of 2012. Before coming to New York, he worked as a commercial fisherman, an English teacher, and a part-time reporter for KBCS radio. He's also currently a student in business and economic reporting at NYU.


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