State workers finding future in shale gas industry

Date: February 28, 2011

Workers are starting at salaries higher than wages of most Pennsylvanians.

ED MAHON Centre Daily Times

PLEASANT GAP, Pa. — This time last year, Eric Klinger, 19, made his living delivering pizzas. His friend, Matt Bartholomew, 20, worked in a factory that manufactured pharmaceutical products.

Now, after a six-month course, they work for Halliburton, driving trucks, hauling supplies and doing some manual labor at natural gas drilling sites. They both started at salaries of between $45,000 and $55,00 a year — higher than the wages of most Pennsylvanians, according to U.S. census data.

“Nothing wrong with that,” Klinger said with a laugh.

Added Bartholomew: “The company that we\’re in with, they\’re saying 30 to 40 years they\’ll be here. So it should be a reliable job.”

Klinger and Bartholomew are two of the thousands of workers hoping to make careers out of Marcellus Shale gas drilling. More than 70 percent of the people working at Marcellus Shale drilling sites come from out of state, according to a November report by Tracy Brundage, managing director of Workforce Development and Continuing Education at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport.

Educators such as Larry Michael at Penn College and Todd Taylor at Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology are working to change that.

They\’ve adjusted their curriculums and added new courses, trying to provide the training that people will need to get jobs related directly and indirectly to gas drilling.

“This is something we\’re really jumping into,” said Taylor, director of secondary education at CPI. “They\’re long-term jobs, well-paying jobs, family-sustaining jobs. Hopefully, (they\’ll) replace a lot of the jobs that have been lost in the manufacturing area.”

It takes more than 150 types of jobs to drill one well, according to a June 2009 study by Penn College.

Some of those jobs require years of education and experience. For instance, the study says 4 percent of Marcellus Shale jobs are for lawyers, 3 percent are for engineers and 3 percent are for geologists.

“What Penn College did was take a look at that and say ‘Out of that 150, which ones do we already have in place?\’ ” said Michael, executive director of work force and economic development at Penn College. “In some cases, we had all of the expertise and labs. In some cases, and I\’ll use welding, probably 90-95 percent of it was here. We just needed to add a piece of equipment or add a particular certification for instructors. And then there\’s other occupations and areas where we had zero.”

While 70 percent of workers directly involved with drilling come from out of state, Michael said that many Pennsylvania residents have been able to find jobs that are indirectly related, such as truck driving. Penn College is conducting a study, to be released in the spring, on how much of the total work force is local.

Jim Colton is. He\’s been an instructor in the welding program at Penn College for the past five years, and now he spends his summers and weekends working for the gas industry.

Since the Marcellus Shale boom started, his students have focused on learning how to weld downhill, instead of uphill.

“It\’s a fast weld. You can … fill a pipe out really quick and move on,” said Colton. “The 520 — the local union here — they went through a major challenge … trying to get enough of their guys that can downhill weld.”

Penn College has added several training courses that aren\’t part of its bachelor or associate degree programs.

Almost half of the 150 jobs needed to drill a well — such as heavy-equipment operator, truck driver and general laborer — don\’t require two- or four-year degrees.

At Penn College, students can take a three-week training course and become certified “roustabouts” — laborers who work near drilling sites. They often work 14 days in a row and then have seven days off. They start out making between $15 and $20 an hour.

Almost all of the students in that program come from Pennsylvania, but there are exceptions.

“I had two graduates in one of the three-week courses that we did, they were from Las Vegas,” said Penn College instructor John Harper. “They had lost their jobs. … And they heard about this and came in here. They went to work the day they graduated.”

In 2010, the Marcellus Shale Workforce Resource Center opened at Penn College in partnership with Penn State Cooperative Extension. More than 1,000 students have completed classes in the program.

Jerry Ogden, 41, moved back to north-central Pennsylvania last year to be near family. A former securities trader for investment banks, he signed up for Penn College\’s roustabout training program.

Now he\’s working for a gas drilling company, but not as a laborer.

He meets with landowners and tries to convince them to let the gas companies run pipe across their land. Each day, he drives about 100 to 150 miles, across Bradford, Sullivan and Tioga counties.

He likes the job, although he\’s not sure how long it\’ll last.

“I don\’t have any exact date. I don\’t know that anybody really does,” he said. “I don\’t think that my position will exist forever. I certainly … don\’t think it\’s anything that\’s going away in six months or anything.

Copyright: Times Leader

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.