Sunday, January 31, 2016

No, Dennis Roddy, Corbett's shale gas numbers really were bullshit

(Image: Wikimedia)
Dennis Roddy sure loves him some mendacious hackery.

In a recent op-ed column on, the former speechwriter for one-term Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett rends his garments and gnashes his teeth over the current governor, Tom Wolf, whose administration recently had the temerity to revise the state's Marcellus Shale jobs numbers and bring them roughly into line with reality.

The Corbett administration, you may recall, constantly touted the hundreds of thousands of jobs the shale gas jobs industry supposedly was creating, generally settling on a figure of 200,000 or more. The industry's explosive growth, the argument went, meant it was too valuable to be taxed.

Now that the explosive growth has driven natural gas prices down to an ant's eye level, you will note, we are told the industry is in too fragile a state to be taxed.

Anyway, Roddy is pissed off because under the Wolf Administration, the Department of Labor & Industry has revised those jobs figures down to 29,000.

But what about the broader economic effects, Roddy complains. He enthuses about a team of "statistical wizards" from Corbett's L&I who instructed Roddy in the higher mysteries of indirect and induced employment.

"It was, basically, a mathematical calculation as to how the general economic buzz taking place in the gas fields and their surroundings, affected the general economy," he writes.

"General economic buzz? Ok, whatever. But here's the thing: If you do that calculation honestly — as a number of researchers not connected with the Corbett administration did at the time — you reach a total of about 80,000 to 90,000.

Not 200,000. Not close.

Note, by the way, that Roddy never, you know, delves into the numbers in his op-ed. He merely asserts they were plausible because, you know, the Marcellus Shale was BIG. Besides, those L&I guys, they knew what they were doing!

"I trusted L&I," Roddy whines, "because they could explain the wider meaning, using tools they'd assembled years before Tom Corbett was elected, and which they continued to fine-tune as the evidence warranted."

No, Dennis, actually they abandoned their claim to credibility and just made s*** up. To explain the details, let me turn to somebody I trusted, and still do: myself.

Back in November 2013, I wrote a lengthy blog post on L&I's claim of 200,000+ jobs:
At first, people assumed these were actual Marcellus-related jobs. Then someone realized the agency was just reporting statewide category totals, without making any effort to determine what fraction of them actually had a connection to the gas industry. Think about that: It's like measuring the effect of building a stadium in Pittsburgh by including all the construction workers in Philadelphia, Altoona and Scranton.
Or as John Hanger, Wolf's policy secretary, says in the article that set Roddy off, "Every sewer employee counted as a gas worker? That makes no sense to any reasonable economist or analyst."

I went on to point out that 200,000 is roughly the number of jobs Pennsylvania had recovered since the bottom of the recession:

"In other words, if the Corbett administration’s assertion is correct, than to a first approximation, all of Pennsylvania’s post-recession jobs gains are Marcellus jobs. ... [B]y attributing 200,000 jobs to the Marcellus industry, the Corbett administration is essentially accusing itself of disastrously mismanaging the rest of Pennsylvania’s economy!" 
Roddy accuses Wolf of "intellectual vandalism" and "economic change denial" — the latter phrase a curious echo of another kind of denial much beloved of the fossil fuel industry.

But Roddy is defending the indefensible. When Hanger, in the comment that set Roddy off, said Corbett's administration "cooked the books" on shale jobs, he was speaking the plain truth.

Update: A friend points out that Roddy argued this point in June, too. We even get the same Richard Wilbur verse. C'mon, Dennis, give it up already.