It is difficult to see so many hardworking neighbors and friends having so much trouble finding a good job, no matter how hard they look and how qualified they are. Unemployment in Carbon County is just over 11 percent - almost 2.5 percentage points higher than the Pennsylvania average. Long-term economic stability feels out of reach for many in Carbon County.
We have a great opportunity for job growth right here in our own backyard. Natural gas extraction from the Marcellus shale could provide unprecedented job growth around Pennsylvania and in Carbon County, not just now but for decades to come.
However, without the proper safeguards in place, allowing the natural gas industry to blast chemicals into our land and drive their big rigs on our already-damaged roads could turn this blessing into a curse in disguise. Just last month, a report exposed a cancer-causing chemical was allowed to leach into local drinking wells and reports from around the state have drawn attention to the damage to roads, bridges and other infrastructure that the heavy trucks of the drilling companies leave behind. We cannot allow these companies to pollute our natural resources and our municipalities cannot afford to shoulder the significant costs of road and bridge repair on their own.
With proper protections in place, we can be confident that the many new jobs this industry will create in Pennsylvania will not come with the health hazards, broken infrastructure and scarred natural environment we in the coal region know all too well.
The natural gas beneath our land presents our community with a tremendous economic opportunity in the midst of a global recession. Some will argue that we need jobs at any cost, but when I drive south on Route 248, I am reminded of what an under-regulated industry can do to our community. We cannot let the potential profits of natural gas extraction blind us to the potential harms to our health and to our ability to keep this region strong for our children.
The residents of our county have a proud history of blue collar employment - and my family comes from this same background. Nothing will be of greater benefit to our county than seeing our neighbors back at work earning a good family wage. The challenge is to balance prosperity with responsibility and to make sure the promise of short-term gains doesn't blind us to the long-term wreckage this industry could leave in its wake.
Jim Thorpe, PA