The 20th century is often referred to as the "American Century" as it was during that time when the U.S. emerged as an economic and political superpower. But a decade into the 21st century, with the country mired in a jobs crisis alongside its eternal struggle to find new sources of energy, some companies in that sector, with the help of business-friendly research groups, are arguing that the practice of fracking would give the U.S. economy a much-needed boost.
According to Moody's Analytics (via USA Today), the exploration of natural gas deposits embedded in shale, along with oil drilling, is responsible for roughly 1 million of the 2.7 million new jobs that have been created since 2002. And much of that employment can be chalked up the discovery of 1.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Appalachian Basin, in an area known as the Marcellus Shale. But fracking -- a process formally known as hydraulic fracturing in which fluids are injected into the ground at high pressures to enable the extraction of natural gas -- also is linked with environmental hazards. And critics also contend that shale supporters are overstating their projections of the number of jobs created by fracking.
So the question is: how many jobs would fracking really create, and is it worth the potential damage to the environment?
This week, AOL Jobs takes a look at the debate, the impact on the jobs market, and where the presidential candidates stand.
What Kind Of Jobs Does Fracking Create?
To start with, shale exploration has created some six-figure jobs in the energy industry. According to Bright Labs, a San Francisco-based jobs tips site, this year alone the shale boom helped create 33,000 new U.S. jobs this year, with an average annual salary of $150,000.
Jobs are created outside the energy sector, too. In fact, three quarters of employment growth from the shale boom has taken place outside energy companies -- with suppliers and service companies that assist energy industries, including truckers for freight companies. The boom is even helping to create opportunities for white-collar professionals, like lawyers and bankers, who facilitate the opening of new businesses springing up around the boom.
On Hold -- Environmental Concerns, Debate Over Jobs Numbers
In spite of the new jobs, and the new source of energy, the process that makes it all possible -- fracking -- has come in for heavy criticism from environmentalists, who cite research suggesting that fracking contaminates drinking-water supplies and causes air pollution. The scale of the potential dangers of hydrofracking was displayed in the 2010 documentary, "Gasland."
The issue also is the subject of a controversial new feature film, "Promised Land," starring Matt Damon. That movie has come under fire for receiving financial backing from Abu Dhabi Media, whose owner, the United Arab Emirates, has an obvious agenda in keeping America as a client for petroleum, according to its critics.
New York is joined by New Jersey as the only two states with a temporary ban on fracking, according to AOL Energy. And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at the end of September that his state would conduct a new review of the drilling process and the related environmental issues in the state. Results from the much anticipated review are expected within the year.
Some environmentalists, some of whom are also economists, argue that other, cleaner energy sources are more effective at creating jobs, and at lower cost.
Exploration in the energy sector and its impact on the labor market has obviously forced both candidates to take a view on the subject. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has called for increased drilling off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas, among other sites, as a means to make the country energy independent by 2020. He also says states should have final say on regulating fracking. He says his plan will create 3 million new jobs, according to CNN Money.
For his part, President Barack Obama has moved to tighten regulations on fracking, requiring the disclosure of which chemicals are used in the process, among other measures announced in May. The rules on fracking, which will be enforced by the Interior Department, also include mandates for energy companies to have a management plan for water used in processing, as well as for a heightened scrutiny of wells. In his first term, Obama has displayed a willingness to sign off on energy projects, despite the notorious BP oil spill in 2010. He has given the OK for exploration of areas in the Gulf of Mexico, for instance.
With so much at stake, the issues surrounding fracking will surely extend beyond November. Or as American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard told AOL Energy in a recent interview, "We're only in the early stages of a very robust debate on energy issues."
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