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Fact-check: How Many Oil and Gas Jobs Are There in West Virginia?

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Moundsville, W.Va., hopes to reap some of the benefits of a proposed project to turn a byproduct of natural gas drilling into the raw material used to produce plastic products. Photo: AP

West Virginia Del. Joshua Higginbotham, a Republican, touted the number of jobs created by the gas and oil industry in West Virginia during a Jan. 23 interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“Tens of thousands of jobs (are) created in West Virginia by the natural gas and oil industries,” Higginbotham said.

West Virginia Del. Joshua Higginbotham

Have that many jobs been created by the industry within West Virginia? The answer is more complicated than we initially expected — so much so that we’re not providing a Truth-O-Meter rating for his statement. Instead, we’ll look at a few different ways of measuring this statistic, each of which have their own benefits and drawbacks.

The American Petroleum Institute study

We did not hear back Higginbotham’s office for this article, but we did receive a response from Jennifer Cox, the manager of member services at West Virginia’s Oil and Natural Gas Association.

Cox referred us to data from “Impacts of the Oil and Natural Gas Industry on the US Economy in 2015,” a 2017 report published by the American Petroleum Institute, a national trade group.

According to this report, West Virginia had 70,874 total jobs in the natural gas and oil industry in 2015.

The figure in the report includes three classes of jobs. The state had 38,211 direct jobs in the oil and natural gas industry. These jobs are “primarily engaged in the drilling, well servicing, exploration, production, gathering, processing, marketing, transportation, storage of distribution of oil and/or natural gas,” Cox said.

In addition, the state had 9,309 indirect jobs, which helped provide needed goods or services to the industry.

Finally, the industry induced another 23,353 jobs, which were supported by expenditures by people employed within the oil and natural gas industries.

It’s important note that this data comes from the industry itself, rather than an independent arbiter.

It’s also important to note that this data is a few years old. In an industry that’s subject to expansions and contractions based on the state of the international energy market, a data lag that long can make a difference. For instance, a different American Petroleum Institute report for West Virginia published two years earlier than the report referenced above found a larger number for oil and gas jobs in West Virginia — 80,400 direct, indirect and induced jobs.

Even if you limit the number to direct jobs, the most recent API report bolsters Higginbotham’s description of “tens of thousands of jobs,” since it cites 38,211 direct jobs.

However, Brian Lego, an assistant researcher professor at West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, told PolitiFact West Virginia that it’s possible the numbers could turn out differently if the methodology was changed.

So we kept looking. And it turns out that Lego was right.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data

We turned next to the federal government’s official employment database, collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This showed a vastly smaller pool of oil and gas employment in West Virginia.

The category of oil and gas extraction had 2,238 employees in West Virginia in September 2018, the most recent month available. There were an additional 2,786 employees in support activities for oil and gas operations.

The total for these two categories works out to about 5,000 — which is a whole lot less than what API found. What gives?

Talking to experts in employment data, we found a couple of explanations for the difference.

One big one, said API spokeswoman Sabrina Fang, is that the BLS data excludes contractors and sole proprietorships and partnerships. Such arrangements are “an especially large factor in the oil and gas extraction sector,” she said. (Other economists agreed.)

Experts also said that professional services — such as lawyers reviewing lease agreements for drilling — wouldn’t necessarily be captured in the BLS data.

The support categories BLS tracks “combine employment from multiple extraction industries, and there’s no way to know how much of that bucket to allocate to coal, oil and gas, or other industries,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist with the jobs site Indeed.com.

A third difference is that API’s study included several industry sectors that are outside of the pure oil and gas extraction activities captured in the BLS data. The report lists such categories as oil and gas pipeline construction, petroleum refining, various types of asphalt manufacturing, and gas stations.

The inclusion of gas stations may go the furthest to explain the divergence between API’s data and BLS’s.

The API report didn’t specify how many of the oil and gas jobs in West Virginia come from gas stations, but in the report’s nationwide data, gas stations accounted for about one-third of all the jobs API tallied in the oil and gas sector. So including gas station jobs helps explain why the API number is so much larger.

The U.S. Energy and Employment Report

There’s a third study we can look at, and its figures rest somewhere in the middle of what BLS and API found.

It’s the U.S. Energy and Employment Report, which was published most recently in 2019 by the Energy Futures Initiative, a “clean energy” think tank led by former Obama administration Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, along with the nonpartisan National Association of State Energy Officials.

This study is both three years more recent than the API study and also uses survey methods to get the closest approximation of the number of contractors working for the oil and gas sector, as well as how much time they spend working on oil and gas efforts compared to work for other sectors.

This report found 4,647 jobs in West Virginia in the oil sector and another 5,816 in the natural gas sector. David Foster, who helped prepare the report for the group, told PolitiFact West Virginia that he would recommend adding in roughly another 5,000 jobs in pipeline distribution in the state to measure the oil and gas sector most accurately.

This adds up to more than 15,000 jobs — more than BLS found, but less than API. This figure does not include some of the sectors API included, such as asphalt operations and gas stations. Foster said he doesn’t object to API including gas stations in its total, but his group didn’t dig up that data.

So, using the U.S. Energy and Employment report‘s total as a middle ground, and adding gas station employment to it, gets the total up to about 20,000 oil and gas jobs in West Virginia — the minimum necessary for Higginbotham’s “tens of thousands of jobs” to be accurate.

Still, the specialists we interviewed were reluctant to choose a single best number for West Virginia employment in oil and gas, suggesting that a range is probably more appropriate.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Checking Bernie Sanders on Life Expectancy in Virginia, West Virginia

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign stop Thursday, May 5, 2016 at the Morgantown Event Center. Photo: Jesse Wright/WVPB

During a June 12 speech at George Washington University, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders offered what he said was a stark example of income inequality and its real-world consequences.

“In 2014, for example, in McDowell County, W.Va., one of the poorest counties in the nation, life expectancy for men was 64 years. In Fairfax County, Va., a wealthy county, just 350 miles away, life expectancy was nearly 82 years, an 18-year differential. The life expectancy gap for women in the two counties was 12 years.” 

Was Sanders right? We took a closer look. (Sanders’ campaign did not respond to an inquiry.)

Let’s start by noting that the two counties are indeed at opposite ends of the income spectrum.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, McDowell County, in the heart of Appalachian coal country, has a median household income of $25,595, about 44 percent of the national median household income of $57,652.

By contrast, Fairfax County, located in the affluent suburbs of Washington, D.C., has a median household income of $117,515, or slightly more than double the national median. 

So median household income is more than four times higher in Fairfax County than it is in McDowell County.

What about life expectancy?

The longest-running data on life expectancy by county in the United States is compiled by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. We used the institute’s interactive database to find the most recent data for both of the counties Sanders mentioned.

Here’s a summary for 2014, the most recent year available:

The data shows that life expectancy is a few years longer than Sanders said for men in McDowell County — 67 instead of 64 — which in turn makes the gap for men between the two counties 15 years, rather than the 18-year figure Sanders cited.

For women, Sanders also is slightly off — there’s an 11-year gap rather than a 12-year gap.

But while Sanders is a bit off on the numbers, his overall point is sound. In fact, not only can people in Fairfax County expect to live longer than those in McDowell County, but the gap between the two has been widening for nearly four decades.

This chart shows life expectancy for men, women, and both in the two counties since 1980. Figures for McDowell County are shown in red, and figures for Fairfax County are shown in green. It’s easy to see the trend lines going in opposite directions.

It appears that Sanders’ comparison actually emerged more than five years ago, in a New York Times article by Annie Lowrey. She wrote:

Fairfax County, Va., and McDowell County, W.Va., are separated by 350 miles, about a half-day’s drive. Traveling west from Fairfax County, the gated communities and bland architecture of military contractors give way to exurbs, then to farmland and eventually to McDowell’s coal mines and the forested slopes of the Appalachians. Perhaps the greatest distance between the two counties is this: Fairfax is a place of the haves, and McDowell of the have-nots. …

One of the starkest consequences of that divide is seen in the life expectancies of the people there. Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq.

Our ruling

Sanders said, “In 2014 … in McDowell County, W.Va., one of the poorest counties in the nation, life expectancy for men was 64 years. In Fairfax County, Va., a wealthy county, just 350 miles away, life expectancy was nearly 82 years, an 18 year differential. The life expectancy gap for women in the two counties was 12 years.” 

A few of these numbers are slightly off, but Sanders’ overall point that there is a large gap in life expectancy between the two counties is solid. We rule his statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Can Cell Phones, Bluetooth Defeat Credit Card Skimmers?

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A researcher holds a magnetic credit card "read head" that is used to read information from cards during retail transactions. Photo: AP

Should you be worried about credit card fraud when you pull up to the gas pump? A post circulating recently on social media says you can deploy your cell phone to stay safe.

An April 14, 2019, post on a Facebook page called “Local Jackson County News WV” told readers they can use their cell phones at gas stations to determine whether a pump has a credit card skimmer — a device that can steal credit card numbers.

The post said, “Just a tip, When you pull up to the gas pump to fill up your car, get your cell phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a sequence of letters and numbers show up don’t pay at the pump. One of the pumps has a credit card skimmer inside of it. All of these skimmers run on Bluetooth.”

Can Bluetooth sensors always determine if there are credit card skimmers in gas pumps? We took a closer look.

How skimmers work

First, some basics: Credit card skimmers are real, and they’re illegal.

When installed in gas pumps, skimmers listen for the data traffic from the credit card reader, record it to memory and pass that data onto the pump controller.

Skimmer technology has become so advanced that thieves do not have to return to the pump to retrieve the stolen information. Perpetrators can simply sit in their cars and download credit card information to a laptop.

A special agent with the U.S. Secret Service told NBCNews last year that the agency recovers 20 to 30 skimmers a week, with an average skimmer holding information from 80 credit cards.

Can Bluetooth sensors stop skimmers?

Bluetooth can be a useful tool for consumers who want to protect their information, but they are far from foolproof.

Paige Anderson, the director of government relations with the National Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group representing gas stations and convenience stores, told PolitiFact that there are too many kinds of credit card skimmers to rely on a phone to detect them.

“Some use Bluetooth technology, some use cell service and some skimming devices store the data themselves,” Anderson said.

Vassil Roussev, a computer scientist and director of the University of New Orleans Cyber Center, said that a “hit” on Bluetooth “could very well be an indicator of compromise by a skimmer, but it could also be any number of other devices within 30 feet or so, such as devices in other cars. More importantly, not finding one does not mean the pump is safe.”

The skimmer need not be detectable by Bluetooth, he said, or it could be programmed to send signals only at certain times.

“Overall, I would say that this tip offers a low level of protection,” Roussev said.

Anderson added that checking for skimmers is something gas station owners and workers need to do on a daily basis.

Retailers should conduct daily internal and external checks and take other measures to foil data thieves, she said. These practices reduce the risk of potential credit card theft, she said, though they may not eliminate it.

Our ruling

Local Jackson County News WV published a post that said, “Just a tip, When you pull up to the gas pump to fill up your car, get your cell phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a sequence of letters and numbers show up don’t pay at the pump. One of the pumps has a credit card skimmer inside of it. All of these skimmers run on Bluetooth.”

Checking a Bluetooth sensor in your cell phone before inserting your credit card in a gas pump may be able to determine whether the pump has been compromised. However, skimmer technologies vary, and many types of skimmers won’t be detectable using the Bluetooth method.

We rate the statement Half True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Are 19% of West Virginians on Food Stamps?

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A food drive at Newark Liberty International Airport, on Jan. 23, 2019. Photo: AP, Julio Cortez

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., recently took to Twitter to criticize a Trump administration proposal on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes known as food stamps.

Manchin wrote: “19% of WVians rely on SNAP, but proposed changes would take food assistance from those struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to become permanently employed. I’m urging @USDA Sec Sonny Perdue to withdraw the proposal.”

The tweet linked to a press release from Manchin explaining his position on the proposal, which would give states less flexibility on enforcing work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries. Manchin and several dozen senators from both parties expressed opposition to the proposal.

We won’t address the pros and cons of the Trump administration proposal here, but we did wonder if almost one of every five people in West Virginia rely on SNAP.

We checked with experts and looked at the data, and it turns out that Manchin was pretty close to the mark.

In February 2019, the most recent month for which full data is available, West Virginia had 314,042 SNAP beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the state’s estimated population for 2018, according to the Census Bureau, was 1,805,832.

That works out to 17.4 percent of state residents, or a bit lower than the 19 percent figure Manchin cited.

Our ruling

Manchin said, “19% of WVians rely on SNAP, but proposed changes would take food assistance from those struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to become permanently employed.”

The percentage Manchin cited is a little high, but it’s close. We rate his statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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