In this April 11, 2012 photo, Barry Butler, a wetlands...

In this April 11, 2012 photo, Barry Butler, a wetlands expert for Wildlife Specialists in Wellsboro, Pa., displays a rattlesnake skin at a gas industry job fair at Broome Community College in Binghamton, N.Y. Wildlife Specialists is among a growing number of companies that have expanded or started up as a result of the natural gas boom that began about four years ago in nearby Pennsylvania and may spread to New York state when regulators complete an environmental impact review. (AP Photo/Mary Esch) Credit: AP Photo/Mary Esch

BINGHAMTON -- Before work begins on a gas well or pipeline in northern Pennsylvania, Merlin Benner or one of his colleagues walks the land looking for timber rattlesnakes, a protected species.

"When we find them, we're required to move them far enough away to get them out of danger and out of sight of the workers," Benner said.

Job creation is one of the main arguments in favor of natural gas drilling using the controversial technology of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." Industry opponents, who believe health and environmental risks outweigh economic gains, say job numbers are inflated and the economic impact will be a boom-to-bust one.

But jobs are being created, not only in the gas industry and the hotels and restaurants that cater to its rig workers, but also in numerous companies that are filling industry-related niches.

Benner, whose company is Wildlife Specialists of Wellsboro, Pa., is among business owners who have started or expanded because of the shale gas boom that began about four years ago in Pennsylvania. Drilling is expected to spread into New York if the state Department of Environmental Conservation completes its four-year review and approves it, possibly this summer.

Benner worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for 15 years as a wildlife biologist before retiring early in 2007 to start his company.

"We went from one person five years ago to about 15 full-time now and 15 to 20 seasonal workers in the summers," he said.

John Payne, owner of Payne's Cranes in Bainbridge, said his company had been busy erecting modular homes until the economy tanked in 2008. "We were doing about 60 homes a year and that dropped to maybe a dozen," Payne said. "The gas development came along at just the right time for us. It's the best opportunity I've had in 42 years, no exaggeration."

Payne's Cranes unloads gas compressors and erects the buildings that house them, also erecting, disassembling and transporting drilling rigs.

Payne has added four employees, increasing his full-time staff to 18, and four cranes, going from eight to 12.

Chris Musser and two friends started Crosshair Consultants of Vestal after they graduated from college in 2009. "We saw an opportunity and jumped on it," Musser said. "We've gone from four to 10 employees plus two part-time, and we just signed a lease for a larger office space."

Crosshair contracts with gas companies to oversee truck fleets, ensuring that vehicles are properly maintained and drivers comply with safety regulations.

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