The April 20, 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been called the worst environmental disaster in American history. Although the well was recently capped, the spill has resulted in tightened regulations on oil drilling which may unexpectedly benefit other segments of the energy industry, such as Marcellus Shale and coal.

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Public uproar over the BP spill has prompted government officials to impose new, restrictive regulations on oil drilling. These regulations make oil drilling costlier and may drive companies out of the oil drilling market altogether.

Pennsylvania-Marcellus Shale

As oil drilling becomes more expensive and more heavily regulated, the energy industry may turn to alternative energy sources. One alternative is drilling for the natural gas trapped in Marcellus Shale, which is prevalent in areas of Pennsylvania. As Robert Johnston, Director of Energy and Natural Resources for Eurasia Group in Washington DC explains, “[b]oth shale gas and oil sands have their own challenges but the problems we have seen in the Gulf could lead to a capital shift away from deepwater drilling and toward other sources.”

West Virginia-Coal Mining

Another alternative is mining coal, which is prevalent throughout West Virginia. Some sources even consider coal to be one of the big “winners” of the spill, at least in terms of energy policy.  This is especially true because the coal industry was already growing before the spill occurred. President Obama has previously indicated an intent to invest in clean coal, traditional coal that is processed to reduce the emissions and pollution normally released when coal is burned. With federal funds available and coal plants being built, backlash from the BP spill may encourage additional investment in coal rather than oil.

Increased Construction Jobs for Both Pennsylvania and West Virginia

Marcellus Shale drilling could be a boon for jobs in Pennsylvania as coal mining already accounts for approximately 30,000 jobs in West Virginia. If the effects of the BP oil spill continue to positively impact the alternative energy industries, Pennsylvania and West Virginia stand to see an increase in construction jobs surrounding these alternative energy sources.