The American people, regular consumers, are the latest target of IHS Global Insights.
Today, the Colorado-based forecasting firm officially released its new economic impact study on shale oil and gas development, which holds the promise of a whopping 3.3 million jobs by 2020 and $468 billion added to the nation's gross domestic product annually.
The study represents the climax of a trilogy begun last fall. The first two installments evaluated the impact of the drilling and fracking phases of the development on the nation and individual states, and were aimed at government officials "to help policy makers understand how important it was and how real it was," said John Larson, vice president of economics for IHS and one of the study's authors.
This latest opus is about tucking the shale gas revolution neatly inside every American's wallet: The increase in gas supplies as a result of unconventional shale development and all of its downstream implications reportedly is giving each household an extra $1,200 a year.
That's not a measure of how much consumers have cut costs in the past few years, but rather a "counterfactual" estimate of how much more they would have had to pay if shale oil and gas were left in the ground.
"This study is to help all Americans understand that they have an interest in this activity, whether they realize it or not," Mr. Larson said.
The IHS study offers just the latest prediction of bountiful returns on the nation's investment in shale oil and gas development. Exact figures, whether such reports are calling for 2 million jobs or 3 million jobs, aren't always the point. The studies are often used to communicate the extent and breadth of the shale gas opportunity to decision makers, and give them a prop to take the message to their constituents.
Since the first two IHS studies came out last year, Mr. Larson has testified before several congressional committees and met privately with elected officials and their staffers to highlight his findings. The three-part series was funded by gas, chemical and manufacturing industry groups, and U.K.-based mining and metals giant Rio Tinto.
For an organization like the American Petroleum Institute, being able to cite the findings and reputation of IHS goes a long way toward making its point to government officials, said Kyle Isakower, vice president of regulatory at the institute.
"It's important for us that we've got credible data to help educate policy makers about energy policy," Mr. Isakower said.
In a statement anticipating the release of the study, Mr. Isakower cautioned that "those in Washington must turn aside efforts that would impose duplicative regulations on shale development, raise production costs and limit access to domestic resources."
Steve Forde, vice president of policy and communication at the Marcellus Shale Coalition, says economic impact studies are "an important advocacy tool and in the initial years in the Marcellus development, they really helped to build the case that this is real."
But study fatigue and the availability of real-time data, such as gas production reports and dispatches from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue about the distribution of impact fees, have relegated impact studies to a supporting role.
Now, it's the solid data, not the projections, that carry the most weight, Mr. Forde said.
Sometimes, the methodology of a study, not the results, proves valuable for decision makers.
"I've been reading economic studies for decades," said Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County executive. What has stuck with him is this: The best way to increase economic output is to bring in wealth from outside the community.
That has major policy implications, he said. Government actions that incentivize outside investment, as opposed to propping up retail -- which moves wealth around the same community, create more jobs, he said.
That's how Mr. Fitzgerald made the case for shale gas extraction at Pittsburgh International Airport.
"How many jobs would be created? I don't know that. I can't quantify that," he said. "I don't know [of] any one study [where] we could say, if we execute this lease, we'll have 'x' number of jobs. But I've seen enough of those things" to know what to look for in an opportunity.
The granddaddy of shale economic studies in this region is the 2009 Penn State Study, "The Emerging Giant."
Commissioned by the Marcellus Shale Coalition and based on projections of economic activity as supplied by the coalition's member companies, the document drew a flurry of criticism for its methodology and disclosure practices. But it has been used widely in industry presentations to local officials ever since. And it may have even inspired some business decisions.
One of its authors, Timothy Considine, who is now a professor at the University of Wyoming, said he's gotten calls from companies -- including railroad firms, banks and real estate firms -- planning to expand their businesses to service Marcellus Shale companies.
Now Mr. Considine is working on a review of economic impact studies of shale development.
"One of the things I'm interested in is trying to get a measure of how many jobs [there are] per well," he said. "The estimates have been from nil to very high."
Mr. Considine has the benefit of five years of data to test previous predictions.
"Models are models. There's always an error band around any sort of result," he said.
Anya Litvak: email@example.com or 412-263-1455.