Proposed ‘man camp’ could bring changes to the Valley

This article from the Morning Times brings up a topic that I’ve heard lot of talk about and have my own concerns as well. The proposed “creation of many jobs” by the gas industries drilling in the Marcellus Shale. So far I have only heard of a few locals who have secured work through the energy companies and there seem to be a lot of folks from Wyoming and Colorado working here for 6 to 8 months at a time instead. It would seem to me that if a company is willing to build/fund an entire facility for housing it’s employees, then those employees probably don’t live in the area, hence this doesn’t really bode well for lots of career opportunities for PA and NY residents. I also think that one companies policies about drug and alcohol usage may differ quite a bit from another. I know some fellows who have been hired by the natural gas companies and these guys are local, and most of them drink and spend most of their cash on drugs…..but they were hired anyway. I am curious how the gas companies can keep tabs on this and what their workers are doing while on the job site? If there is a spill or something else goes wrong I’d like to think that those workers would dial 9-1-1 immediately, but I just don’t have that confidence in them.
By Steve Reilly

ATHENS TOWNSHIP — Natural gas drilling activity in the region is, as one local official recently described it, still in its “stakes and red tape” phase. But with leases signed on much of the available land, the industry is poised for nothing less than a complete transformation of the area’s economic and social life.

One of the most highly anticipated additions to the Valley is a planned temporary housing facility — often referred to as a “man camp” — that has been proposed for development in Athens Township. The purpose of the planned 180-bed facility will to house employees of Nomac Drilling, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy.

The purpose of the facility is to house temporary gas drilling workers, or “roughnecks,” while they work on rigs in the area.

The plans, as they were presented to the Athens Township Supervisors in July, showed a 15-acre complex consisting of four dormitory-style buildings. The planned facility includes a kitchen, dining hall, office, lounge area, recreation facility, and laundry unit. Plans include a 130-space parking lot, and a fence surrounding the facility manned by 24-hour security.

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Chesapeake and Nomac officials have stated that 25 to 30 full-time and part-time positions that could be filled by local workers will be created by the construction of the facility.

While such housing facilities are a new phenomenon on the Eastern seaboard, parts of some gas-heavy states west of the Mississippi have already seen the temporary facilities come — and go — along with gas extraction activities.

Athens Township Supervisor Jack Walter was among a contingent of 20 local officials who were flown in a Chesapeake Energy private jet to inspect a housing facility in Searcy, Ark.

Walter stated that his experience there has led him to be a proponent of the addition of a similar facility in Athens Township.

“The way they do business — I couldn’t find anything wrong with them (drilling workers) at all,” he stated. “Those are nice jobs and they’ve got to pay attention. They’ve got to be on the ball, and you don’t get that from hiring criminals.”

“I absolutely did not see anything that should alarm any of the citizens here. I just don’t believe that’s the case at all. And I saw one in operation and I didn’t see anything to be afraid of,” he added.

Walter praised the company’s no-tolerance drug and alcohol policy, and described the drilling workers as “absolutely top citizens.”

Terrie Swift, executive director of the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce in Sublette County, Wyoming, echoed Walter’s observations about the restrictions drilling companies have placed on their workers.

“Most of them have pretty strict restrictions in terms of drug and alcohol policy. Some of them even go as far as saying zero tolerance for anything. And some of them even have curfews as well,” she stated.

However, Swift added that the economic impact of the transitory workers living in temporary housing quarters has been, if anything, impermanent.

“At that level of employment with the gas company we don’t see a lot of people moving permanently,” she stated. “There’s not a lot of incentive for them to move their families because it’s not the nature of their profession to stay in one place…(drillers) are a level of the workforce that is the most short-term, and I think it’s not in the nature of the business for them to stay.”

Swift stated that another reason roughnecks choose not to settle permanently is that increased population during drilling activity can drive up the cost of housing.

“The extraction cycle usually drives the local cost of housing up quite considerably — especially rural areas — so it’s not very cost-effective for them to move here,” Swift said.

However, Swift also added that while the temporary housing quarters was able to add housing for some, it did not completely alleviate the pressure that drilling activities put on Sublette County’s housing prices.

“I haven’t seen that because you have several different levels of employment here in the extraction cycle,” she said, alluding to the numbers of managers, technicians, attorneys, and office personnel that a drilling-centered economy added to the area.

New location may be sought

During previous Athens Township meetings, Chesapeake and Nomac officials expressed interest in establishing the housing facility at a site on Round Top Road in Athens.

However, according to Ed Reid, Athens Township’s zoning officer, Chesapeake Energy may currently be pursuing a different location for the housing facility.

Chesapeake Energy officials did not respond to a request for further information concerning the alternative location.

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  1. […] Proposed 'man camp' could bring changes to the Valley […]

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