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Some notable achievements have resulted from mistakes. Columbus  put America on the map in a misguided attempt to reach the East Indies by sailing west. Alexander Fleming discovered the lifesaving antibiotic properties of penicillin when a spore of mold accidentally landed in a bacteria culture.
Recently, North Carolina made its own fortunate mistake. Thanks to a single, unintended vote by Democratic representative Becky Carney, who accidentally pressed her desk’s “yes” button when she meant to press “no,” the Tarheel State’s legislature opened up land to shale gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing — known as “fracking” for short.
North Carolina will soon see just how fortuitous human error can be. Natural gas from the state’s Deep River Basin will dramatically increase the state’s energy supplies, generating much-needed jobs and revenue from a rare indigenous resource.
Natural gas production writ large is exactly what our economy needs to get back on track. Consider North Dakota, where hydraulic fracturing has brought quality jobs and a budget surplus of $1 billion to the state, even as the national economy continues to stall. As of May 2012, North Dakota’s unemployment stood at just 3 percent — far below the national average of 8 percent.
North Dakota’s successes can now be emulated to the southeast. North Carolina’s new law, which also created the Energy and Mining Commission to study and determine how to regulate the gas production, has the potential to create more than 40,000 new jobs by 2020.
North Carolina is believed to have 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas trapped in the Deep River Basin, a 150-mile long area under the center of the state that extends into South Carolina. That’s five years or more of supply to meet all the state’s needs, not bad for an area that otherwise imports almost all of its supply.
North Carolina in its fortuitous moment joins a national dash-for-gas. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), in the next 25 years, production of domestic natural gas is expected to reach 28 trillion cubic feet – a 27 percent jump. In the process, the United States will be transformed from a net importer into a net exporter of gas.
The increase in production will have dramatic economic benefits.
A recent study commissioned by America’s Natural Gas Alliance and published by IHS Global Insight, “The Economic and Employment Contributions of Shale Gas in the United States,”  found that employment in the shale gas industry will increase dramatically. Shale gas production supported more than 600,000 jobs in 2010. That number will reach 870,000 by 2015, before climbing to over 1.6 million in 2035.
What’s more, for every direct job created in the shale gas sector, more than three jobs are created in other sectors — a greater multiplier effect than occurs in most other industries, including finance and construction.
And many of these are high-quality jobs. Right now, the average hourly wage in North Carolina is $19.83. Shale jobs, averaging $23.16 per hour, are better-paying than those in manufacturing, transportation and education in the state.
Locally, regionally, nationally: natural gas will play an important role to fuel our country’s economic engine for many years and decades to come. Legislation that allows and supports fracking and natural gas development — even if it wasn’t quite what Ms. Carney intended — is a good thing. Here’s imagining a good story for her to tell in future life: how an ‘invisible hand’ made her do the right thing despite some negative thoughts running around in her head.