Steve White: Pipeline projects will create plenty of good jobs (Gazette)

By By Steve White

The recent U.S. energy revolution, courtesy of high-tech advancements in hydraulic fracturing, has made U.S. manufacturing more competitive globally, lowering costs for energy-intensive industries while increasing output, employment and exports.

Those aren’t my conclusions. They come from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“For every two jobs created in direct relation to fracking, this indirect effect adds more than one additional job elsewhere in the economy,” the report says. In fact, manufacturing exports have increased about 10 percent, on average, since the energy boom began.

These results “suggest that the cost advantage” brought on by the energy revolution “helped the U.S. economy recover significantly faster than it would otherwise have done after the financial crisis,” the foreign report adds. The more energy we safely produce and transport, the higher these figures will climb.

How come experts across the pond understand the importance of American energy development and its adjoining infrastructure better than some of the elected leaders here in the United States? Especially since America has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000 and more than 7 million since 1979.

West Virginia has been hit especially hard, shedding more industrial jobs since August 2015 than it has at any point since the end of the recession.

One of the key reasons American workers are hurting is a lack of a domestic energy policy that focuses on energy production and benefits of low energy costs to our families and businesses.

Pipelines, like highways, rail and other infrastructure components, are critical to a healthy economy. In West Virginia, green-lighting the construction of more pipeline projects would create hundreds — perhaps thousands — of good-paying construction jobs in our communities.

Statistics back my claim.

The National Association of Manufacturers reports that the construction and maintenance of oil pipelines in 2016 supported 243,167 jobs, including 28,438 in manufacturing. At least 66 manufacturing subsectors benefited from the construction of oil pipelines by $10 million or more in 2015, including fabricated metals, cement, machinery, iron and steel, and paints and coatings. New natural gas transmission lines, meanwhile, had a similar effect, increasing employment by more than 347,000 jobs, with 60,000 in manufacturing.

But as state labor data and sluggish severance tax revenue suggests, more of that production and infrastructure is needed in West Virginia.

The good news is that the state already has the skilled workers it needs to build these projects, and thanks to the growth of several local apprenticeship programs, it can quickly attract many more, when needed — particularly if we approve projects that move dry gas, which we have in abundance. Consumers in surrounding areas need and want this gas, and pipelines are the safest and most reliable way to get it to them.

Our nation and state need a new-look energy game plan, one that transcends partisan politics, incentivizes the expansion of 21st-century energy infrastructure, increases funding for energy research, commercializes the work of local laboratories and advocates the expansion of all resources — oil, gas, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind and coal – for families and businesses across the state.

With new leadership in Charleston and in Washington, there is growing interest in expanding infrastructure, and the time is ripe for state leaders to bypass bureaucratic dead ends and reassert West Virginia as a global leader in manufacturing and energy development.

The only way to do that — and get more West Virginians back to work by making employment here more cost-effective — is to stop talking about growing energy and building pipelines and start doing it.

Steve White is director of the Affiliated Construction Trades in West Virginia, which represents more than 20,000 union construction workers.

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