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The fracking boom is over. Where did all the jobs go?

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Haliburton in PA


Boom and bust

The shale gas “boom” was as ephemeral as Cruz’s presidential prospects. Yet four years later, running for reelection, Donald Trump used the same script to try to best Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Pennsylvania.

One campaign ad that aired in the state said Biden’s “fracking ban” would “kill up to 600,000 Pennsylvania jobs.” (Biden can’t ban fracking, except on federal public lands.) At a rally in Latrobe, Trump claimed that fracking had created 940,000 jobs in the state. The actual number at the time was more like 26,000—and that’s including “fracking-related” jobs not directly in the industry.

A report by the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative found that during the time span of the ostensible fracking boom in Pennsylvania and the Midwest (from 2008 to 2012), “firms with an economic interest in the expansion of drilling” and their political allies systematically exaggerated the industry’s impact on employment.

The US Chamber of Commerce declared in 2012 that shale gas production in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia had created more than 300,000 new jobs. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry counted only about 18,000. The discrepancy likely resulted from the Chamber’s blatant misrepresentation of several controversial industry-funded Penn State studies that looked at “projected jobs,” meaning expected future jobs. Later, the Chamber revised the 300,000 jobs “created” down to 180,000 jobs “supported.”

Similarly, former Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett’s 2014 State Energy Plan claimed that “over 240,000 Pennsylvanians work in core and ancillary jobs associated with the oil and gas industry.” However, the Keystone Research Center pointed out that most ancillary jobs (like those of UPS drivers), which accounted for the bulk of the total, predated fracking.

The Halliburton facility in Muncy, PA, east of Williamsport, shown here in 2013.

COLIN JEROLMACK

The bottom line is that although Pennsylvania’s gas boom peaked between 2011 and 2012, its unemployment rate actually increased almost a full percentage point in that time—and at 8.3%, it was a half-point above the national average—even as unemployment fell in 46 states. (In Billtown, whose former mayor dubbed it the “Energy Capital of Pennsylvania,” the 2012 median household income of $33,147 was no higher than it was preboom; the high local poverty rate remained unchanged.)

A bombshell report recently put out by the Ohio River Valley Institute details how fracking boosters’ promise of jobs and prosperity for the broader Appalachia region was a mirage. In the 22 Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia counties that produce most of America’s natural gas, economic output grew by 60% from 2008 to 2019, but little of the income generated by that growth stayed in local communities. The region saw only 1.6% job growth, compared with 9.9% nationally; its share of the nation’s population fell by 11%.

These numbers show that gas drilling has not lifted the financial outlook of shale communities. In fact, it may have even made things worse.

Sustaining growth

It’s important to explode the myth that fracking is a golden goose because it takes away one of the primary justifications for a polluting industry. The “economy versus environment” narrative implies that environmentally friendly policies kill jobs. Renewable-energy proponents, likely driven in part by a desire to rewrite this storyline, likewise often overstate the economic impact of their own recommendations by touting high-paying “green jobs” they claim will come with wind or solar energy.

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How do I know if egg freezing is for me?

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How do I know if egg freezing is for me?


The tool is currently being trialed in a group of research volunteers and is not yet widely available. But I’m hoping it represents a move toward more transparency and openness about the real costs and benefits of egg freezing. Yes, it is a remarkable technology that can help people become parents. But it might not be the best option for everyone.

Read more from Tech Review’s archive

Anna Louie Sussman had her eggs frozen in Italy and Spain because services in New York were too expensive. Luckily, there are specialized couriers ready to take frozen sex cells on international journeys, she wrote.

Michele Harrison was 41 when she froze 21 of her eggs. By the time she wanted to use them, two years later, only one was viable. Although she did have a baby, her case demonstrates that egg freezing is no guarantee of parenthood, wrote Bonnie Rochman.

What happens if someone dies with eggs in storage? Frozen eggs and sperm can still be used to create new life, but it’s tricky to work out who can make the decision, as I wrote in a previous edition of The Checkup.

Meanwhile, the race is on to create lab-made eggs and sperm. These cells, which might be made from a person’s blood or skin cells, could potentially solve a lot of fertility problems—should they ever prove safe, as I wrote in a feature for last year’s magazine issue on gender.

Researchers are also working on ways to mature eggs from transgender men in the lab, which could allow them to store and use their eggs without having to pause gender-affirming medical care or go through other potentially distressing procedures, as I wrote last year.

From around the web

The World Health Organization is set to decide whether covid still represents a “public health emergency of international concern.” It will probably decide to keep this status, because of the current outbreak in China. (STAT)  

Researchers want to study the brains, genes, and other biological features of incarcerated people to find ways to stop them from reoffending. Others warn that this approach is based on shoddy science and racist ideas. (Undark)

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A watermark for chatbots can expose text written by an AI

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The Download: watermarking AI text, and freezing eggs


For example, since OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT was launched in November, students have already started cheating by using it to write essays for them. News website CNET has used ChatGPT to write articles, only to have to issue corrections amid accusations of plagiarism. Building the watermarking approach into such systems before they’re released could help address such problems. 

In studies, these watermarks have already been used to identify AI-generated text with near certainty. Researchers at the University of Maryland, for example, were able to spot text created by Meta’s open-source language model, OPT-6.7B, using a detection algorithm they built. The work is described in a paper that’s yet to be peer-reviewed, and the code will be available for free around February 15. 

AI language models work by predicting and generating one word at a time. After each word, the watermarking algorithm randomly divides the language model’s vocabulary into words on a “greenlist” and a “redlist” and then prompts the model to choose words on the greenlist. 

The more greenlisted words in a passage, the more likely it is that the text was generated by a machine. Text written by a person tends to contain a more random mix of words. For example, for the word “beautiful,” the watermarking algorithm could classify the word “flower” as green and “orchid” as red. The AI model with the watermarking algorithm would be more likely to use the word “flower” than “orchid,” explains Tom Goldstein, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, who was involved in the research. 

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The Download: watermarking AI text, and freezing eggs

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The Download: watermarking AI text, and freezing eggs


That’s why the team behind a new decision-making tool hope it will help to clear up some of the misconceptions around the procedure—and give would-be parents a much-needed insight into its real costs, benefits, and potential pitfalls. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things health and biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Elon Musk held a surprise meeting with US political leaders 
Allegedly in the interest of ensuring Twitter is “fair to both parties.” (Insider $)
+ Kanye West’s presidential campaign advisors have been booted off Twitter. (Rolling Stone $)
+ Twitter’s trust and safety head is Musk’s biggest champion. (Bloomberg $) 

2 We’re treating covid like flu now
Annual covid shots are the next logical step. (The Atlantic $)

3 The worst thing about Sam Bankman-Fried’s spell in jail? 
Being cut off from the internet. (Forbes $)
+ Most crypto criminals use just five exchanges. (Wired $)
+ Collapsed crypto firmFTX has objected to a new investigation request. (Reuters)

4 Israel’s tech sector is rising up against its government
Tech workers fear its hardline policies will harm startups. (FT $)

5 It’s possible to power the world solely using renewable energy
At least, according to Stanford academic Mark Jacobson. (The Guardian)
+ Tech bros love the environment these days. (Slate $)
+ How new versions of solar, wind, and batteries could help the grid. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Generative AI is wildly expensive to run 
And that’s why promising startups like OpenAI need to hitch their wagons to the likes of Microsoft. (Bloomberg $)
+ How Microsoft benefits from the ChatGPT hype. (Vox)
+ BuzzFeed is planning to make quizzes supercharged by OpenAI. (WSJ $) 
+ Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)

7 It’s hard not to blame self-driving cars for accidents
Even when it’s not technically their fault. (WSJ $)

8 What it’s like to swap Google for TikTok
It’s great for food suggestions and hacks, but hopeless for anything work-related. (Wired $)
+ The platform really wants to stay operational in the US. (Vox)
+ TikTok is mired in an eyelash controversy. (Rolling Stone $)

9 CRISPR gene editing kits are available to buy online
But there’s no guarantee these experiments will actually work. (Motherboard)
+ Next up for CRISPR: Gene editing for the masses? (MIT Technology Review)

10 Tech workers are livestreaming their layoffs
It’s a candid window into how these notoriously secretive companies treat their staff. (The Information $)

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