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Survey: Marcellus drilling benefits nearby businesses

Small businesses in Pennsylvania’s northern tier and southwest are indeed seeing a boost from Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, according to Penn State researchers.

However, the impact on hiring has been more modest, at least so far, the researchers found.

Their report, “Local Business Impacts of Marcellus Shale Development: The Experience in Bradford and Washington Counties, 2010” summarizes the findings of a survey answered last fall by more than 600 business owners in the two counties, both of which are sites of extensive drilling.

One-third of Bradford County businesses and 23 percent of Washington County companies reported increased business due to drilling activity, compared with 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively, that reported declines.

In Bradford County, in northeast Pennsylvania, 100 percent of hotels and campgrounds, 50 percent of financial businesses, 35 percent of construction firms and about 30 percent of transportation firms and restaurants reported higher sales.

“The increases … were somewhat lower in Washington County, likely due to the difference in the size of its economy,” the report said.

Washington County, near Pittsburgh, is more developed than Bradford County and has more than three times the population.

Tourism businesses did not report a decline, as some analysts have feared might happen.

Ninety percent of respondents said natural gas drilling has not affected their staffing, 8 percent said their hiring increased and 2 percent said it decreased.

In Bradford County, 13 percent said drilling had made employees harder to find, compared with 2 percent in Washington County — again, likely due to its larger, more diversified economy.

The shale development process is still in its early stages and effects on business could change over time, the researchers cautioned.

The study is part of a larger ongoing economic impact study being done by Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center, a joint effort of the Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport.

Tim Stuhldreher