By Ryan Deto
On Thursday, President Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Latrobe, Pa., just an hour east of Pittsburgh. There, he lobbed many insults and made many false claims, but arguably none more egregious than one about jobs in Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.
According to WESA-FM Editor Chris Potter, Trump claimed during his speech that there are currently 940,000 natural gas jobs in Pennsylvania. That’s a gross exaggeration. The industry is frequently referred to as the “fracking” industry, a reference to hydraulic fracturing, the process that’s used to extract natural gas from solid rock.
Number of natgas jobs in PA now at 940,000, per the President a few moments ago.
— Chris Potter (@CPotterPgh) September 3, 2020
According to multiple analysis and data from state and federal labor departments, there are around 26,000 jobs in Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industries. Trump inflated the amount of jobs in Pennsylvania by more than 3500 percent.
According to a March analysis of federal employment data by environmental group Food & Water Watch, there were approximately 636,000 jobs directly related to oil and natural gas extraction from 2016-2018 nationally. In Pennsylvania, there were 26,000 jobs in these industries during this time span.
Since 2018, the gas industry has struggled, as gas prices remain low. In the Pittsburgh region, hundreds of jobs have been lost, and large fracking companies are divesting from the area.
Other analysis corroborate these figures. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, there are between 20,000 to 50,000 jobs in, and supported by, the state’s natural gas industry.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, there were about 967,000 total jobs in the oil and gas and supported industries throughout America.
But nothing close to those figures when just counting Pennsylvania jobs. In fact, it is hard to find job figures as high as Trump is claiming in any Pennsylvania sector. Only jobs in “Trade, Transportation, and Utilities” and “Education and Health Services” have figures over 940,000 jobs in the commonwealth.
Conservatives and fracking boosters have been known to exaggerate the number of jobs in the natural gas sector.
Republican 17th Congressional District candidate Sean Parnell claimed in March that “over 100,000 oil and gas jobs in Western PA would vanish” under a plan proposed by Biden that would ban new permits for oil and gas drilling on federal land and off-shore. (Only about 2 percent of Pennsylvania is comprised of federal land.)
There might be more jobs when considering employment at natural-gas power plants. But, according to the recent Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Energy Employment Report, there were only about 3,000 jobs in electricity generation by natural gas in Pennsylvania in 2019. (By comparison, there were more than 8,100 jobs in electricity generation by solar and wind in 2019).
And while Republicans politicians such as Trump continue to make fracking a campaign issue, the majority of Pennsylvanians may not be on their side.
According to a recent CBS/YouGov poll, 52 percent oppose fracking in Pennsylvania, compared to 48 percent who support.
Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.