Interrupting a relentless stream of negative stories about natural gas hydrofracking in the Northeast, The New York Times notices that gas exploration in neighboring Pennsylvania has touched off a boom in New York’s once-languishing Southern Tier.
Sales are up 60 percent at the boutique this year. At the two Holiday Inns here in Chemung County, occupancy has been at or near capacity for months at a time. And in the nearby town of Big Flats, the regional airport has added flights, parking spaces and restrooms, and is extending a runway to accommodate larger jets.
This new base of customers — workers from Oklahoma, Texas and other parts of the country with long experience in drilling natural gas wells — are drawn to the region by jobs just across the state border in rural Pennsylvania, where a kind of drilling known as horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, has vastly expanded over the last two years.
In the same period, New York State environmental officials have been weighing whether such drilling should be allowed here. Until it does, Chemung County is savoring a hydrofracking boom without the hydrofracking.
The workers stream across the Pennsylvania border in search of amenities that are relatively scarce at the rural drilling sites. “Places are jammed,” said Thomas J. Santulli, the Chemung County executive.
Last year, Chemung led all New York counties in the growth of sales tax and hotel tax revenue, as well as in the expansion of its tax base, avoiding the property tax increases and economic doldrums faced by local governments elsewhere in the state. To a lesser degree, Broome County, also right above the hydrofracking hot spots of Bradford and Susquehanna Counties, is also enjoying brisk business.
Mr. Santulli, the Chemung County executive, attributes at least half of its tax revenue growth to the increased activity of the extracting industry on both sides of the border.
He said 28 gas-related companies employing more than 1,000 had leased or bought more than one million square feet of commercial space in the county as a staging area for current and future drilling operations in the region.
Many businesses provide support and technological services for gas fields. One of the biggest, Schlumberger Technologies, is completing a 400,000-square-foot plant in Horseheads that will employ 400 people by next year.
Ann Crook, the manager of Elmira Corning Regional Airport in Big Flats, estimates one of five passengers flying in or out has some tie to the gas industry. Some are workers who head straight to the airport after working their final shift, which has prompted her to invest in some degreasing soap for the restrooms. “They do some serious cleanup here,” Ms. Crook said.
Not everyone is happy with this. The Times article quotes a Horseheads resident who worries that “the boom will turn into a bust later.” This is not an unreasonable concern. All resource booms turn to busts eventually. Moreover, the Southern Tier alone is filled with the retired and laid off employees of vanished manufacturing firms (including, most recently, Steuben Glass). One good question is whether communities in New York’s shale gas regions can harness hydrofracking-driven growth as a bridge to a more sustainable economic base for the future. Another good question is whether it is really preferable for upstate to endure a continuing bust with no boom at all.
Meanwhile, the Times gives the final word to a driller from Oklahoma who, fittingly enough, manages to get to the heart of the issue:
“They want to know why we’re up here drilling,” he said. “I say, because you like to heat your home. You can’t get natural gas if you don’t drill.”