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TRIPLETT: Spreading the good news about shale

Republicans can capitalize on energy-sector growth

- - Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The color of the American shale revolution is white, not because of skin color, but because of the tens of thousands of new, white pickups immediately obvious to anyone visiting the oil patch — Ford F-Series, Chevy Silverados and Dodge Rams, for the most part.

The final assembly for Fords is in Kansas City; Silverados and Rams in Michigan. However, if you look at the American pickup with the final assembly line as the top of a construction pyramid, the base essentially covers the entire country. Goodyear alone makes tires in seven states, and the supply chain for today's trucks requires steel, aluminum, plastics, electronics and all the other parts, as well as the design and transportation of the parts. With the average age of American cars on the road now more than 10 years old, the average age of American pickups in the oil patch might be counted in months.

Very recently, the U.S. Energy Information Administration took a look at oil- and gas-industry employment and came to the startling conclusion that between 2007 and 2012, overall U.S. private-sector employment increased by about 1 percent, whereas over the same period, employment in the oil and gas sector increased by 40 percent. In short, oil and gas employment is expanding at 40 times the national average. However, this is undoubtedly an undercount since the figures only include drilling, extraction or direct support activities — no pickups assembled in Kansas City or tires in the Carolinas.

This is certainly good news, but how does it translate politically?

If Republicans choose, they can own the shale revolution issue. In mid-June, the Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee passed a resolution calling for "a halt, a stop, a cessation" to the American shale revolution in the state and at least two Democrat governors thought to be running for president in 2016 are also opposed. Until he was caught last year, the Environmental Protection Agency official in charge of Texas and Louisiana was bragging to the liberal faithful that he intended to "crucify" the oil and gas industry.

Owning the shale issue would give the GOP the advantage on the overall U.S. economic issue. Economists call it the multiplier effect: Every oil-field job supports a certain number of other jobs, such as pickup-truck assembly. In the second quarter of 2013, the overall U.S. economy grew at an anemic rate of 1.7 percent. However, we know that the oil and gas sector is booming. If we subtract the economic ripple effect of oil and gas, including the new pickups, growth of the overall economy dives to near zero or perhaps even minus numbers, depending on what assumptions are used.

Backing shale would afford Republicans a leg up in future science, technology, engineering and math employment. Oil and gas is a high-tech business. Along the Gulf Coast, there is a $15 billion employment bidding war for young people with any sort of technical experience applicable to the chemical feedstock side of the natural-gas boom, just as one example. Hundreds of new oil and gas high-tech job categories have been created during only the past five years. Young people coming out of college with a technical degree can expect a bright future in oil and gas.

Owning the shale issue would provide the GOP with a positive connection to blue-state voters. Republicans' post-2012 damage assessment pointed to a lack of connection to the "Reagan Democrats," blue-collar voters who once voted for a Republican president. There are a lot of such voters in oil and gas territory for whom tax rates now matter. They live in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado that the GOP might like to carry in 2016.

Supporting shale would help the GOP connect with Hispanics and other minorities. There are tens of thousands of Hispanics in both blue- and white-color jobs suddenly living the American Dream because of the shale revolution. If the GOP can successfully explain the impact of the revolution outside of the oil patch itself, its message can reach a lot of eligible voters.

Mastering the shale issue would make Republicans leaders of the American manufacturing renaissance. Oil and gas, like no other sector, can turn around the decades of U.S. manufacturing decline. Shale's double-digit growth rate translates directly into a huge demand for machine tools alone.

Columnist Jennifer Rubin recently wrote, "Remarkably, few Republicans are talking about energy." Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republicans, are the ones most likely to talk it up, but considering the positive impact of the shale revolution on the economy of the country as a whole, the issue is sitting out there for any Republican with the imagination to grab and run with.

William C. Triplett II is the former chief Republican counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.