New Jobs For Who?

There is a lot of talk about the positive side of gas drilling in PA to counter the negative side. One of these points is the amount of jobs that will be created in the drilling areas. There seems to be two sides of that though. The Gas companies and often local commissioners and folks involved with local politics keep reminding everyone about the job boom that will happen in our area, but most of the current workers on these sites and rigs are from places like Texas and Oklahoma. Why? Because the local folks are not trained or do not have the knowledge or certifications to work on natural gas sites. This industry is new for PA residents and while there may be a lot of jobs being created by this gas boom, the people getting the jobs may not be the folks who live in the Marcellus Shale region unless PA schools are able to offer more specific training for possible employees.  I think the natural gas drilling in PA will change the state  in more ways that people are considering. The obvious changes which are visible to the casual viewer are environmental changes in land and roads and creeks and the views as you travel historic Route 6, but there will be other changes as well. Our economy may change and with more career opportunities available in places which have historically had slim to no career opportunities there may need to be changes made in our school systems at some point as well.

This article talks a bit about the job opportunities and some of the steps that the local college is taking to help make sure locals can get the training needed to fill these jobs.

By DAVID THOMPSON

The development of natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale is “a once-in-100-year opportunity” that will exceed – on an economic level – previous resource booms, such as the lumber industry, economist John C. Felmy said Wednesday.

“This town was built on a boom. This is an opportunity that could be every bit as big, but it could last for decades instead of a short time,” Felmy, a chief economist with the American Petroleum Institute, said during a community meeting hosted by the Marcellus Shale Committee at Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Klump Auditorium.

About 200 people attended the meeting, which was held to update local residents about activity in the Marcellus Shale, according to Louis D’Amico, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association.

The committee, which was formed in 2008 from members of the association and Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association, held 16 meetings throughout the shale region prior to Wednesday’s event.

Larry L. Michael, Penn College’s Workforce and Economic Development executive director, said a recent study performed by the college in conjunction with Penn State Cooperative Extension shows that job opportunities are likely to increase dramatically in the northcentral region of Pennsylvania due to natural gas development.

“Most of those jobs will be blue collar,” Michael said.

Over the next five years, gas development will create about 8,000 full-time direct jobs in the region, he said.

“That is a significant impact on our region,” Michael said.

Jobs will be short-term – the pre-drilling and drilling phase of development – and long-term – the production phase of development, he added.

However, because of the massive size of the Marcellus Shale region and the length of time it will take to fully develop it, the short-term phase could last decades, Michael said.

To prepare workers for employment in the gas industry, the college has begun to offer courses for on- and off-road CDL licenses, welding and metering, among other jobs.

According to D’Amico, gas exploration in other parts of the nation have slowed significantly, while increasing in the Marcellus Shale – in spite of wholesale gas prices that fell from about $13.50 per thousand cubic feet last year to the current price of about $3 per thousand cubic feet.

“We’re drilling way more wells than other areas of the country,” D’Amico said.

D’Amico said the development of the Marcellus Shale in the near future will be driven by market forces such as gas prices and the recovery of the nation’s economy, particularly in the industrial-manufacturing sector, which uses large quantities of natural gas.

D’Amico discussed the industry’s future use of water for hydrofracturing and drilling, which he said only will be a fraction of the water used by other sectors, such as power generation, public water systems and mining.

Currently, the area’s frac water treatment needs are adequate, but as the industry progresses, there will be a need for advanced treatment technologies, he said.

D’Amico added that any time an area has a commodity in abundance, it attracts other industries that need that commodity to the area, thus creating additional jobs.

The industry could create up to 174,000 jobs by the year 2020, he said.

D’Amico agreed with Michael that many of those jobs will be blue collar.

“Everybody doesn’t have to be a petroleum engineer or geologist,” he said.

D’Amico also discussed the industry’s impact on local roads, which were not meant to handle the heavy loads carried by gas industry vehicles, he said.

“We take many, many loads over roads designed to handle the occasional milk truck or a school bus,” he said.

According to D’Amico, some roads will have to be improved simply to be able to accommodate heavy loads. Others will have to be repaired periodically.

In the long run, he said, many roads will be left in better shape than their previous condition.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, a panel of industry representatives fielded questions that covered a wide range of subjects from gas royalties to gas leases to potential issues with pollution.

D’Amico called “unacceptable” a recent incident in which a gas company was cited three time for frac fluid spills.

“That said, any type of human activity will have problems,” he said.

Tom Metarko, a geologist with XTO Energy of Pittsburgh, said the amount of money it costs to drill a gas well – an average of $3 million – does a lot to weed out fly-by-night gas drilling operations.

“Most are very reputable, environmentally conscious,” Metarko said. “It is very different than it was a long time ago.”

Doug Mehan, assistant manager of environmental, health and safety for East Resources, said his company is working to use less fresh water for hydrofracturing by recycling flow back from previous fracing operations.

According to Mehan, about 50 percent of frac water is recoverable. That water is mixed with fresh water and used in other operations until it no longer can be used. Then it must be treated.

John Snedden of Hart Resources and Technologies, a company specializing in the treatment of brine and frac water, said his company is looking for technologies that will economically remove salt from frac water.

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