Drilling likely to generate variety of labor positions

Date: March 22, 2010

75 percent of gas production workforce composed of unskilled, semi-skilled jobs.

By Steve Mocarsky

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Staff Writer

If natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale is as successful as energy companies and landowners hope, the companies likely will need to hire more employees to man wells, perform testing for and oversee the drilling of new ones and monitor their operations.

“The jobs associated with natural gas drilling are well-paying jobs,” said Doug Hock, spokesman for Calgary-based Encana Energy, which has its U.S. headquarters in Denver, Colo.

Salaries even for less-skilled positions generally range between $60,000 and $70,000, Hock said.

The types of company jobs that usually become available when drilling operations are successful include drilling engineers, geologists and geophysicists and permitting experts. Pumpers, employees who check wells on a regular basis for proper operation, will be needed after more wells are drilled, Hock said.

Other positions with energy companies include experts in land negotiations and in community relations, he said.

Rory Sweeney, spokesman for Chesapeake Energy, said the Oklahoma City, Okla.-based company currently has 1,032 employees working in Pennsylvania, up from 215 in January 2009.
Local employment

As far as local employment, Sweeney said 168 employees report to local offices, “but we have more than 1,000 statewide and most of them are working rigs in NEPA.”

Types of workers expected to be hired include welders, rig hands, production workers, engineers, drilling and land technicians, pipeline field staff, construction field staff, administrative support and dozens of other occupations.

Last summer, the Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center at the Pennsylvania College of Technology conducted a Marcellus Shale Workforce Needs Assessment study that looked at potential workforce needs in two tiers of Pennsylvania counties – the northern tier, which borders Luzerne County to the north, and the central tier, which borders Luzerne County to the west.

The northern tier includes Wyoming, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Bradford and Tioga counties; the central tier includes Clinton, Centre, Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Union, Snyder, Lycoming and Mifflin counties.

The study found that the direct workforce needed to drill a single well in the Marcellus Shale region is comprised of more than 410 individuals working in nearly 150 different occupations. The total hours worked by these individuals are the equivalent of 11.53 full-time, direct jobs over the course of a year.

The study notes that nearly all of these jobs are required only while wells are being drilled.

By comparison, 0.17 long-term, full-time jobs associated with the production phase of development are created for each well drilled in a given field. While comprising a very small percentage of the overall workforce, these long-term jobs compound every year as more wells are drilled. For example, if 100 wells were drilled each year for 10 years, 17 production jobs would be created each year, according to the study.

The study found the majority of occupations in the direct workforce were unskilled or semi-skilled jobs including heavy equipment operation, CDL truck operation, general labor, pipefitters and a variety of office-related occupations. These occupations account for about 75 percent of the workforce.
Learn on the job

Industry representatives, survey respondents and additional research indicated that most of these occupations require no formal post-secondary education, and only a few, such as CDL, welding and X-ray, require a specialized license or trade certification.

However, nearly all of them require the skills and knowledge unique to the natural gas industry, which are best learned through experience. Workers within all occupations of the natural gas industry are additionally prized for their hard work ethic and willingness to work very long hours in unfavorable conditions, the study found.

The majority of the remaining 25 percent of workers are in occupations that are white collar in nature, including foremen, supervisors, paralegals, Realtors, engineers and geological scientists.

Larry Milliken, director of Energy Programs at Lackawanna College, said that industry wide, jobs in the gas and oil drilling industry pay about 20 percent better than the same types of jobs in other industries.

“Around here, there are an awful lot of jobs in the $9- to $14-per-hour range. Jobs in the oil and gas industry tend to start in the $18-per-hour range and go up from there,” Milliken said.

A petroleum engineer might earn $40,000 to $45,000 teaching at a college or university, but working in the field for a gas or oil company, the engineer could make close to $90,000, he said.

The average technician in the natural gas industry can expect to earn about $30 per hour, which equates to an annual salary of about $60,000. A starting technician with a two-year degree can expect to earn $18 to $20 to start, amounting to a salary near $40,000, Milliken said.

In gas production growth areas, employees with at least associate\’s degrees would tend to progress up the employment ladder “faster than someone off the street,” Milliken said.

Sweeney said Chesapeake has a variety of recruiting events, such as a drill-rig worker recruiting event this week through PA CareerLink, and a job fair in Towanda in October that attracted more than 1,000 applicants.

Chesapeake also employs a Scranton-based professional recruiting firm to recruit local employees for NOMAC, Chesapeake\’s wholly owned drilling subsidiary.

Company officials plan to build a residential and training facility in Bradford County this year to serve as quarters for out-of-town employees and as NOMAC\’s Eastern U.S. Training Facility, which will help the company train workers, Sweeney said.

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Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.