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Other businesses also are seeing huge paydays. Rig workers for drilling companies such as Range Resources, one of the biggest players in the game, end up at local bars and restaurants after their shifts.

But they also must eat on the job. The hectic schedule doesn’t allow them to clean up and take a formal one-hour lunch break. Instead, the food comes to them.

“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Frank Puskarich, owner of Hog Father’s restaurant in Washington and daily caterer to Range Resources‘ “frack jobs” across the region. The boisterous barbecue pit master said he has hired eight employees who do nothing but prepare chicken, ribs, brisket, macaroni and cheese and other entrees for tired, hungry workers. He picked up the contract with Fort Worth, Texas-based Range Resources five years ago, and that also has helped drive business to his small establishment in Washington.

“It’s standing-room only for lunch” every day, Mr. Puskarich said. “[Business] has been tremendous. There’s a lot of work for people who want it, and not just in the food business.”

Along Interstate 80 in northeastern Pennsylvania, hotels are being built at a frantic pace. It’s tough to get a room in places such as Towanda in Bradford County — the epicenter of Marcellus Shale drilling in the northern half of the state.

Bradford County and nearby Tioga County now boast two of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, a stark change from just a few years ago.

“These towns a few years ago were on their last legs,” said Gene Barr, vice president of government and public affairs at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

Others are receiving big checks simply because they are lucky enough to live on land suitable for drilling. Range Resources and other companies work out lease agreements with residents, usually farmers who part with a few acres in exchange for upfront money and monthly royalties for years. Many of those farmers carry on their work as usual, tending to their land and harvesting crops, but are able to invest thousands of dollars in new equipment because of their deals with energy giants.

A drive through backwoods areas of western Pennsylvania reveals new homes with expensive sport utility vehicles or luxury cars in driveways, just seven years after the first Marcellus Shale well was drilled in the state.

“The industry, by its very nature, has to have good relations with the landowners. They’re our business partners,” said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a brotherhood of gas companies.

Schools also are jumping on the bandwagon, offering training programs for their students to lead them into jobs where they often earn $75,000 a year or more. The drilling companies recruit many of those students before they graduate.

A battle over taxes

Pennsylvania is attractive to big energy companies for another reason: no severance tax on natural-gas production.

The state’s competitors — including Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Louisiana and West Virginia — all tax gas, but Pennsylvania remains the only state that does not. For years, lawmakers have debated whether such a tax is necessary. Critics contend that the industry has blocked a tax through intense lobbying efforts and the financial support for leaders in the state legislature.

One of most high-profile examples involved Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph B. Scarnati III, who accepted tickets for the February Super Bowl from a leading gas-drilling company. Afterward, he said he planned all along to reimburse the company for the tickets, lodging costs and other related expenses.

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