Real energy vs. greens’ subsidized fantasies

BY D. Dowd Muska

D. Dowd Muska
If America's hydrocarbon boom has a lesson to teach, it is this: Don't take career advice from moonbats.

The "green" sector, it turns out, isn't much of a job creator recently. In the last few weeks:

• Kalaeloa Solar Power canceled its plan to generate 5 megawatts of power for Hawaiian Electric from a new facility in West Oahu. The company that was to have supplied the equipment for "Kalaeloa Solar One" ceased operations, and its assets are being sold off.

• California-based ClearEdge Power, a fuel-cell manufacturer, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It owes at least $100 million to creditors, and faces a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 268 employees laid off in Connecticut.

• In Oregon, Ocean Power Technologies abandoned its attempt to establish what The New York Times called "the nation's first grid-connected commercial-scale wave park."

• As part of a "structural reform," Sharp Manufacturing Co. of America completed the layoff of 311 employees at its solar factory in Tennessee.

• Texas biofuel maker KiOR disclosed that it cannot restart its Mississippi plant, shuttered since January, "on an economically viable basis at this time." If it can't find more financing by August, the refiner declared, it "will not have adequate liquidity to fund our operations and meet our obligations."

• In its U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission filing for the first quarter, Enfield's STR Holdings reported declining revenue and suggested that without improved sales, the solar manufacturer would consider "the winding down" of its business. (Last year, it laid off 150 employees.)

Grisly stuff. But over on the "dirty" side of the energy industry, things are looking up.

After stagnation in the 1990s, between 2003 and 2013, U.S. natural-gas production grew by 25.3 percent. Petroleum extraction bottomed out in 2008, at 5 million barrels per day, and "peak oil" appeared — to the ignorant — to be unavoidable. By 2013, production had soared to 7.4 million barrels per day, an expansion of 48.9 percent. More (much more) is on the way.

Oil-and-gas enterprises have needed plenty of new hires to access the fracking bounty. Jobs in the sector have risen 30.1 percent since the Great Recession's June 2009 trough. (Overall U.S. employment has grown by a pathetic 5.6 percent.) And as energy scholar Mark Mills noted in USA TODAY, "For every job in the oil field, we find three or four created in everything from information services to education. In every one of the 10 states with increased hydrocarbon production, statewide employment growth has outperformed the nation for six years."

Those looking for work in the fracking revolution have a surfeit of options. North Dakota's gusher is about to surpass the 1-million-barrels-per-day mark. One estimate put 2014 investment in the Bakken at $15 billion, and 25,000 jobs are available. But if the cold, snowy steppe is not appealing, head to the sizzling Eagle Ford, a crescent-shaped formation south of San Antonio, Texas. There, Lewis Energy has hiked employment from 300 to 1,300. A BHP Billiton Petroleum executive told the Houston Chronicle that his firm is planning to be in the region for the next 50 years. Heyco Energy Group is building a liquefied-natural-gas plant to power drilling rigs and fracking equipment. To the northwest, production in the massive Permian Basin is surging, too.

In New Mexico, the next major oil-and-gas play could be underway. The Mancos Shale has yet to be tapped. This year, Encana plans to spend $350 million exploring the Mancos. The Niobrara, which sprawls across Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado, is producing more than 300,000 barrels per day of liquids.

Fracking has not bypassed the Rust Belt. The development of natural gas in the Utica Shale is boosting businesses and jobs in Ohio. In March, a federal analysis documented "substantial growth in terms of both employment and wages" in Pennsylvania from drilling in the Marcellus Shale. An investigation by The Buffalo News found that along "New York's Southern Tier, where [fracking] remains barred by a state moratorium … four contiguous gas-rich counties lost 4,945 jobs between September 2009 and September 2013. Meanwhile, in the four counties of Pennsylvania's Northern Tier with the most fracked gas wells, 7,978 jobs have been created, and nearly half … appear to be directly related to fracking."

America's reality-based energy industry is thriving. Isn't it time to stop all the nonsense about — and corporate-welfare giveaways to — green jobs?

D. Dowd Muska writes about government, economics, and technology. He lives in Broad Brook.