CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although hundreds of millions of dollars already have been invested to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, development is still in its infancy, said Christopher Guith, vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy.
"I don't think a lot of people understand how far-reaching it is," Guith said of the impacts of the Marcellus and other oil- and gas-rich shales.
The institute commissioned a three-part study of shale energy by IHS, an independent global energy research firm. The first part of the study, released in October, found that shale energy development has created 1.75 million jobs nationwide in recent years. By 2015, shale and the development of other unconventional energy sources are projected to be responsible for 2.5 million jobs and, by 2035, 3.5 million jobs.
The second part of the study, released in December, detailed the impact shale energy is having on the states. It said that through 2012, shale energy supported nearly 12,000 West Virginia jobs in industries related to extraction and generated more than $280 million in state and local government revenue.
Guith pointed out that those jobs were created during one of the worst economic periods in recent history.
"But for those jobs being created, we would be looking at unemployment north of 10 percent in some of those time frames," he said.
By 2020 shale energy extraction is expected to support 29,656 jobs in West Virginia and generate $884 million in tax revenue, the study said.
The third part of the study, to be released soon, will look at all of the economic impacts shale energy is expected to have from the time it is extracted to the time it is used to make final products.
"Adding the 'midstream' and 'downstream' will give us the full picture," Guith said. "Those numbers are going to be mind blowing."
A lot of shale energy's potential is still locked up, he said.
"Pennsylvania is sitting squarely on top of the Marcellus Shale but as recently as last year, Pennsylvania was still importing 75 percent of its natural gas. Why? Because the infrastructure hasn't been built yet" to get the gas to market and transform it into final products.
In March 2012 Shell announced it wants to build a multi-billion-dollar cracker plant near Monaca, in western Pennsylvania. A cracker converts natural gas into more profitable chemicals like ethylene, which is used to make plastics, tires and other products.
Guith said a cracker is important because of the trickle-down effect it has. Manufacturers cluster nearby to take advantage of the feedstock a cracker produces.
"The vast majority of this business is on the Gulf Coast so a cracker is important for all three states," Guith said, referring to Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. "Many would argue that, at the end of the day, Ohio and West Virginia may have got the better deal because of all of the tax deals Pennsylvania had to give Shell.