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Marcellus shale: Responsible benefits

State data strongly suggest Marcellus shale natural gas drilling's benefits are real and growing. To sustain that momentum and maximize benefits, the industry must keep extracting gas safely.

With 729 wells drilled since 2007, the industry remains in its infancy in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area. But it best explains positive employment, sales-tax and taxable-income trends, according to the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

Regional "mining and logging" employment, which includes Marcellus drilling and extraction, rose by 66 percent (3,200 jobs) from May 2007 to May 2011 -- bucking overall private-sector employment's 1.4 percent drop. And the more drilling that regional counties saw from 2006 through 2008, the more those counties' taxable income increased.

Fiscal-year sales tax remittances in the region did fall from 2007-08 through 2009-10, reflecting the recession. But they fell least in the counties where drillers were most active and their well-paid employees were spending.

These data only hint at the industry's economic potential -- if it operates safely. If it doesn't, it will become its own worst enemy -- and the economic promise of Marcellus shale gas for Pennsylvanians won't be fulfilled.

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