Last week, we noted that BP had named “expanding deepwater” as a key strategy for growth beyond 2015. Second on that list was “leveraging expertise in gas”—another trend that’s becoming increasingly clear across the energy industry.

In a piece titled “Oil Companies’ Dash for Gas,” The Economist pointed out last week that “gas is dominating the thoughts of Western oil bosses and, increasingly, their firms’ portfolios”:

 

Seven of the eight projects Exxon Mobil completed last year were for natural-gas developments. Two of the three it has scheduled for this year are also gas-related. Royal Dutch Shell says that by 2012 half of its output will come from gas. The current high oil price still makes crude the prize for any self-respecting major. But the West’s big oil companies are growing gassier.

As we’ve reported extensively, natural gas drilling is not without its own dangers. It can contaminate drinking water supplies, kill wildlife and even enter the food chain. Spills are not uncommon.

In Pennsylvania, where gas has been drilling its way into communities and the economy, many local papers have reported on the hazards, the environmental impact and the many unknowns. Several—including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Times-Tribune of Scranton--have also pointed out that more local colleges have started offering courses to prepare students for jobs in gas drilling.

News of these gas-drilling courses sprang up after a study released in May—financed by the industry and conducted by Penn State researchers—predicted that natural gas would create more than 200,000 jobs in the state, according to both the Post-Gazette and The Times-Tribune.

Since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf, as crude oil has blanketed beaches, imperiled human health and cost thousands of local jobs, many people in the region have stood with the oil industry and against the offshore drilling moratorium. Even families of Deepwater Horizon victims have voiced support for the industry that cost their loved ones their lives—a testament to how deeply oil is entrenched in the culture and economy there.

In Pennsylvania, it appears a similar interdependence between the gas industry and the local economy is just now developing, in spite of the concerns of some residents.