The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Balancing Act

February 27, 2011

Training tomorrow’s drillers

The expansion of the natural gas industry may mean jobs, but it may not necessarily mean jobs for West Virginians if there isn’t an investment in developing training programs related to the industry.

On the typical natural gas site, many workers come from out of state, and the industry is known for employing workers with long commutes. Aside from workers to operate the drilling rigs, natural gas drillers employ truck drivers, electricians, welders, engineers, office workers and numerous others in the drilling process.

Community colleges throughout the state are currently offering programs to educate the West Virginia workforce for employment in the natural gas industry.

Schools, such as West Virginia Northern Community College, offer programs to familiarize West Virginians with natural gas-related technologies and safety issues. West Virginia University offers a degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering.

Northern is partnering with Westmoreland County Community College in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania College of Technology, Eastern Gateway Community College in Ohio and Broome Community College in New York to form Marcellus ShaleNET. The collaboration is a cooperative effort to provide “recruitment, training, placement and retention strategy for jobs in the Marcellus shale gas industry.”

The program kicked off with $4.96 million in funding from the Department of Labor.

In a news release related to Marcellus ShaleNET, a natural gas operator expressed his company’s interest in hiring local workers and applauded the training program.

“We believe that the industry will be hiring thousands of individuals in the foreseeable future to support responsible natural gas extraction,” said EQT president and CEO David Porges. “At EQT, we unquestionably want to fill those jobs with individuals who call Appalachia home.

“Through the Marcellus ShaleNET program, the training and public workforce systems are going to help develop a large pool of residents uniformly trained to industry standards, but also more attuned to our region’s insistence that these activities are conducted in a manner consistent with our community’s strict environmental and safety standards. These individuals will be our first choices for high-priority, well-paying jobs in an energy economy that’s bound to create prosperity for the region and its residents.”

The program will also match the talents of workers to job vacancies within the industry.

According to data from the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association, drilling one well requires 400 workers from 150 occupations. Of the workforce, 47 percent is low-skilled labor, 20 percent general labor, 17 percent heavy equipment operators, and 10 percent of the jobs require a commercial driver’s license and an off-road license.

Email: tkuykendall@register-herald.com

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