The state Department of Labor and Industry said in a report this month there were 72,000 "new
hires'' in the Marcellus Shale drilling industry and in related industries between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2011.
But not all of them are new jobs, a distinction that led to a political argument in Harrisburg this week.
In its "Marcellus Shale Fast Facts'' report, released earlier this month, the labor department quantified the employment impact of the booming natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.
The department included a "new hires" statistic that tracks the number of people hired by industry -- including workers hired to fill existing vacancies. The statistic does not account for workers who left their jobs either because they were fired or quit.
The Keystone Research Center, a Harrisburg think tank affiliated with organized labor, issued a report Tuesday pointing to another labor department statistic that shows the drilling industry has
actually created about 9,300 new jobs.
"The Marcellus Shale has made a positive contribution to recent job growth in Pennsylvania, but the size of that contribution has been significantly overstated in recent statements and news
reports,'' the Keystone report said. It also asserted that "the Marcellus boom is not the primary reason for Pennsylvania's recent strong overall job performance."
The Pennsylvania Republican Party as well as the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, attacked the Keystone report as politically motivated.
"In the heat of a budget battle in Harrisburg, opponents of responsible natural gas development have launched yet another thinly-veiled, politically-timed attack on an industry that is creating family-sustaining jobs for men and women across the Commonwealth,'' coalition president and executive director Kathryn Klaber said in a statement.
State GOP executive director Mike Barley accused Keystone of trying to skew the data, saying: ``The fact is that the Marcellus Shale gas industry has and will continue to create jobs all across Pennsylvania.''
Responding, the author of the Keystone report defended it as accurate.
"We think it is unfortunate that the Shale Coalition and Mr. Barley can't acknowledge that jobs and new hires are not the same, and present their interpretation of the facts in a civil way,'' said Keystone's executive director, Stephen Herzenberg.
Labor department spokesman Christopher Manlove acknowledged the difference between new jobs and new hires but said the Marcellus presents a welcome economic jolt no matter how the data are interpreted.
``Each of those new hires is an opportunity someone didn't have before. It could be a new job, a career step, a paycheck, a better paycheck ... that helps a family pay bills, buy food, beneficially
contribute to their well being and the local economy,'' Manlove said via email Thursday. ``This is a dynamic part of our state's economy, and there are _ without a doubt _ opportunities for people
who are interested.''