5 myths about the ‘fracking jobs versus environment’ debate

So often we hear governments and the oil and gas industry promoting fracking as a way to create jobs. Job creation and fracking – and other fossil fuel projects - are often pitted against water, environmental and public health concerns. The debate is framed as a black and white issue: If you oppose fracking, you are ‘anti-jobs’ and you cannot possibly be an environmentalist that supports job creation. 

Here are five points that debunk these myths. The reality is we have different options and we need to get our governments to start talking about them.

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

B.C. Premier Christy Clark continues to promote the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry and recently touted, “B.C. is on the right path to bring home the generational opportunity of LNG - an industry that will create 100,000 jobs and enough revenue to eliminate our debt.”

Earlier this year in his annual state of the province speech, New Brunswick Premier David Alward restated his commitment to shale gas development claiming that the oil and gas industry would result in over $20 billion in investments and royalties for New Brunswick and create thousands of jobs. Alward has described the Liberals’ shale gas position as ‘anti-jobs.’ 

Despite industry and government claims that fracking creates new jobs, we have not seen a rigorous assessment of how many direct, long-term jobs have been created from fracking projects across the provinces. 

1. U.S. study finds fracking job estimates overblown and misleading

U.S. organization Food & Water Watch (FWW) produced two reports showing that the estimate of new jobs is overblown and misleading. In their report, Exposing the Oil and Gas Industry’s False Jobs Promise for Shale Gas Development: How Methodological Flaws Grossly Exaggerate Jobs Projections, FWW points out that the Public Policy Institute of New York State (PPINYS) boasted that developing 500 new shale gas wells every year in the five counties of Allegany, Broome, Chemung, Steuben and Tioga would create 62,620 new jobs in New York by 2018. 

But when FWW analyzed employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in counties with shale gas development in Pennsylvania and compared them to bordering counties in New York without shale gas development, the organization found these claims to be baseless. In fact, FWW found that opening up the five counties in New York to fracking would create no more than two jobs per well in the state compared to PPINYS’ claims of 125 jobs per well. Some of the jobs would be in construction, retail or the food industry rather than solely in the drilling industry.

Job estimates often do not make clear where the workers will come from and how the local community will actually benefit. Industry fails to consider the negative impacts that fracking would have on existing employment in other industries, such as tourism and agriculture.

While this is a specific study in three New York counties, I invite the premiers of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and New Brunswick to release data on how many long term jobs fracking has created in their respective provinces. 

2. Investing in green jobs

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ (CCPA) report Enbridge Pipedreams and Nightmares notes that Enbridge boasts that an oil and gas project like the $5 billion Northern Gateway Pipeline would create 63,000 person-years of employment during its construction phase, and 1,146 full-time jobs once completed. However, CCPA reveals these estimates are overblown and that it would only create approximately 1,850 construction jobs per year for three years, and a handful of permanent new jobs once completed. The report points out that between 3 and 34 times the number of direct jobs would be created if the $5 billion were invested in green industries such as education, health care, waste management and remediation services. 

Blue Green Canada’s report, More Bang for Our Buck, found that for every two jobs created in oil and gas, fifteen jobs could be created in clean energy.  

Despite all the jobs the government and industry claim oil and gas development will create there is strong evidence to suggest the way to job creation is through renewable energy. 

Important to remember is the federal government subsidies injected into the oil and gas industry. An estimated $1.4 billion in tax subsidies are given to oil and gas companies each year. If governments are to promote oil and gas development, we need an assessment of how many jobs would be created in green industries. 

3. How fracking impacts jobs in other industries

Rarely do proponents of fracking talk about the impact that fracking has on jobs and industries outside of oil and gas. But many industries have raised concerns about fracking’s impact on their sectors.

CBC recently reported on cranberry farmers’ concerns about shale gas development in New Brunswick: “[Maurice] Albert says if gas is found in the shale, he's worried for his family's farm. ‘It's extremely important to the cranberry farmers because water management is a big thing.’” Statistics Canada has noted, “New Brunswick reported the largest area of cranberries in Atlantic Canada, as well as the third largest area in the country.” 

The day after the release of the Council of Canadian Academies report warning we do not know enough about fracking, UNESCO announced that they want a buffer zone around Gros Morne National Park and previously indicated that Gros Morne could lose its World Heritage Status if fracking was approved. Tourism is a $1 billion industry in Newfoundland and Labrador and provides sustainable jobs to people in the province. 

Dairy farmers in Penobsquis (New Brunswick) and Bradford County (Pennsylvania) as well as the yogurt industry in New York have raised concerns about how fracking impacts this business. 

German brewers made headlines last May when they expressed concerns about fracking compromising beer quality and asked for a freeze to fracking. 

Then there are subsistence-based economies like that of some Indigenous communities that fall outside of the traditional job tallies. The recent Council of Canadian Academies report, Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada, pointed out that fracking occurs largely on indigenous lands and communities “who depend on the local environment for food and water.”

So while we hear about how oil and gas development will benefit the economy, we need to look at how it affects the economy in other industries. 

4. How many jobs are being created in the oil and gas industry?

According to Statistics Canada, there were 61, 572 jobs in the oil and gas industry in 2013. There were 99, 435 jobs in “Support activities for mining and oil and gas extraction” in 2013. 

While these jobs have increased in the last five years (6912 in oil and gas and 24, 909 jobs in “Support activities for mining and oil and gas extraction” since 2009), the total number of jobs still dwarf that of other industries. 

Foresting, fishing, mining, quarrying and oil and gas only make up 2% of the total number of jobs. If we look at the numbers for oil and gas extraction and support activities for mining and oil and gas extraction (226,020 jobs) that only makes up 1% of the jobs in Canada. The industries that produce the most jobs are trade (15%), health care and social assistance (12%), manufacturing (10%), professional, scientific and technical services (8%), construction (7%) and education services (7%).

5. What are other countries doing about fossil fuels?

Denmark has made the commitment to meet 100% of its energy needs with renewable energy sources by 2050. Earlier this month, Kristoffer Böttzauw, the deputy director general of the Danish energy agency Energistyrelsen, noted, ""Today, we're already at 43 percent."

Germany's DW reported on the jobs the renewable energy sector is creating in Denmark, "Every year, the sector is responsible for creating around 6,000-8,000 new jobs in the country of 5.5 million people."

Germany has committed to the goal of meeting 80% of its energy needs with renewable power by 2050. Recently, the country reached 75%

Heinrich Böll Foundationis, an international network and think tank, points out, "Already, roughly 380,000 Germans work in the renewables sector – far more than in the conventional energy sector." The think tank notes, "A thorough study of the German market estimates a net job creation of around 80,000, rising to 100,000 – 150,000 in the period from 2020 to 2030. One reason why renewables have such a tremendous positive impact on net job creation is that renewable power directly offsets power from nuclear plants, and very few people work in those sectors." 

What our future looks like

This blog only scratches the surface of the information we don’t hear in mainstream media about the reality of job creation in the oil and gas industry and that it can actually be better if we transition away from fossil fuels. 

We can protect our water, curb climate change and protect public health AND create jobs. 

Rather than accepting a risky future with fossil fuels, we need to press our provincial and federal governments to start showing us other options. So what our future looks like is entirely up to you.