My reason for writing this is to share with you the quest that I have experienced since July 2012. I am a guidance counselor at Martins Ferry High School. My "quest" as I like to call it began last summer while I was working at the Italian Festival in Wheeling. I met two gentleman from Texas who told me they were working on the pipeline and living in a campground in New Martinsville. I asked them, "What pipeline?" They both looked at me like I was an idiot and explained what was happening nearby with the gas and oil industry. Being a guidance counselor, I always like to keep abreast of the current job trends to advise my students when they are considering post-secondary plans. As such, I decided to question them further to whet my curiosity.
I asked these gentlemen what their jobs were as I am also fascinated at the many different jobs that are out there. They advised me that they were radiographers, and their job is to x-ray the welds on the pipes to insure that the pipes have no fissures or that the welding was done correctly. This will insure that the pipes that are used to frac will be safe. I then asked them, because I can be pushy, about the average income for someone who does this job. They told me about $150,000. I, of course, told them I had a hard time believing this, but then asked them where I sign up! They explained that they are working out of the Operators Union from Oklahoma, and the training they received was through their union and took 40 hours.
From that point I began contacting state and local Unions and apprenticeship programs. I learned that five unions are now in dire need of workers: Operators, Teamsters, Laborers, Ironworkers and Pipefitters. These organizations have on the job training and offices in the Ohio Valley. One needs only look in the yellow pages for the local halls or go to jfs.ohio.gov/apprenticeship/ .
Additionally, I have a friend who teaches in Washington, Pa. He said there was a welding company who was frantically looking for certified welders as they had to turn down a multi-million dollar job with a gas company because they did not have enough certified welders. This sent me further into my quest to identify what training programs are available in this area. I was happy to find out that that several of the local two-year colleges are developing oil and gas industry related jobs. There are several programs already in place and I would hope that these training programs will see an increase in their enrollment. These include welding, machine trades, engineering, and mechanics to name a few. Students who are presently in high school and are interested in any of these fields should consider enrolling at Belmont Career Center to get these certifications before they graduate, so they are job ready.
In Belmont County, the Connections Office of the Belmont County Department of Job and Family Services has done a nice job of becoming the "one stop" place to look for some of these job opportunities. The site, www.belmontcountyconnections.com, lists current jobs in the industry. Anyone applying for these jobs MUST be able to pass a drug test, and unfortunately, many who have applied cannot meet this challenge. What a sad commentary for our workforce! Many able-bodied workers live in our area but may not know where to look for these jobs.
I had read an article in The Times Leader regarding ShaleNet, a collaboration of colleges, industry, and the State of Ohio to begin developing training programs to meet the needs of the oil and gas industry in Ohio. I attended a ShaleNet meeting and the main speaker was Rhonda Reda from OOGEEP (Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program) www.oogeep.org . Ms. Reda was an excellent spokesperson for the oil and gas industry and provided me with insight into this field. She convinced me that what I previously thought was a temporary industry would in fact, be a game changer for the Ohio Valley and its people. At that meeting I had visions of the men and women in the late 1890's and the gold rush of California except today the gold has turned to oil and gas.
As I continued on my quest, I attended a meeting at Salt Fork State Lodge which was sponsored by the Career Technical Education Department of the Ohio Department of Education. At this meeting, speakers addressed various topics including available petroleum engineering programs some of which included the programs already in place at Zane State College, Marietta University, and Ohio State University. One particular presentation sparked my interest. The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and businesses throughout Guernsey County has noticed the streaming in of oil and gas related businesses. What was said at this presentation left an impression with me. The chamber members mentioned a dry-cleaning business in Cambridge who was complaining to the chamber personnel that oil and gas guys are coming into their business and using up all of their washers and dryers. They are leaving mud everywhere and the owners of the business have had to add more equipment to keep up with the extra loads. The chamber employee asked the owner of the dry-cleaner how his profits were. It was as if a light bulb went off. Business was not only good; it was great! Another business the chamber employees mentioned was a garage. This garage was asked by a major gas company to service all of their vehicles. As a result, the garage expanded its business by building three more bays and hiring several more employees.
The chamber personnel spoke of the problems certain businesses were having in Guernsey County at keeping qualified mechanics and welders as these workers are leaving for jobs that are paying more than double what the local industries could afford to pay. As such, employers have been making sure to take care of their employees to make them happy so as not to lose them to oil and gas.
At this meeting at Salt Fork, there was a presentation by a gentleman from Shale Directories. This site is considered the "Yellow Pages" of the oil and gas industry. You can even download an app for it. The site is www.shaledirectories.com.
If you are involved in this industry and need to look for anything from generators to restaurants, this is the sight you go to. I will get back to this topic later.
The last presentation that I sat through was from several chamber members who went to visit Williamsport, PA. I saw a commercial by Chesapeake Gas which included this city. They visited the area and met with several Williamsport Chamber of Commerce members. What they found was almost overwhelming. They were told that businesses were booming. Where once there were empty storefronts, there are now bustling businesses. Where once there were empty warehouses, there are now housing units. Hotels are booked, and restaurants and bars are bustling.
Upon hearing these stories, I began to wonder what effect this is having on the schools in the Williamsport area. Upon returning to school, I contacted the guidance counselor at Williamsport High School. I asked him what he could tell me is the biggest effect he has seen on his students and their families due to the oil and gas industry in his area. He said that students are dropping out of school at 18 and going right into jobs and making great money; college enrollment is down because of the same reason. So I assume there are some jobs in this industry which require a person to only be able-bodied and willing to work. He reinforced what I heard at my meeting at Salt Fork about housing. He stated that the low-income families in his district are having a hard time finding places to live. Houses that used to rent for $400 a month are now renting for $400 a week. Any empty warehouses have been converted to apartments. The city of Williamsport built four new hotels in the past three years and they are building a fifth. The new hotels are at capacity all the time, and visitors have difficulty finding a room. The restaurants and bars are packed all of the time, and no empty storefronts can be found anywhere.
In addition, the guidance counselor told me that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation cannot keep mechanics and CDL certified drivers employed because they are all leaving and working for the oil and gas industry. He stated that the "out of towners" aren't real happy as there is 24/7 traffic on the country roads by water tankers going to and from job sites. He explained that they had been a strong lumber and manufacturing area, but in the past 20 years the industry fell on hard times. The areas and plants that had been owned by these companies and have been lying empty for years are now used in some way by an oil or gas industry. Real estate is booming and new businesses are still coming in.
I then asked him what several people have said to me and that is I had heard that these companies are in and out and then when they leave so goes the "bustle" of the businesses. He said the businesses have been in the Williamsport, Pa area for two to three years, and they are telling the locals that they are just scratching the surface.
Recently, I attended a meeting held by the Belmont County Port Authority. Some of the participants included members of the various Chambers in Belmont County, the OSU extension office, realtors, Belmont County Dept. of Tourism to name a few. Under the guidance of Commissioner Ginny Favede, the group is collectively working along with OOGEEP to plan an Oil and Gas Expo at the Carnes Center in April, 2012. This is a great beginning for Belmont County.
At this meeting, a representative from Shale Directories was present and in collaboration with the county commissioners, Belmont County will be included in this directory. Businesses who would like to be added to this directory need to contact their local chamber office who will be the overseers for the website. Businesses who do not belong to a chamber of commerce might consider investing the few bucks and join one. These organizations will be a catalyst for growth and the economy of our local area in the years to come.
So in summary, we as Belmont County residents have opportunity knocking on our door. If the gas and oil industry is coming to this area, we better get ready. Do what we can as citizens, employers, business owners, students, job seekers, and educators to get ready for this boom. Many have concerns about the environment and this industry. I have my concerns as well. I enjoy the peaceful country roads and scenery of the countryside and do not want it destroyed. But this is gas and oil. This is energy. I also like my laptop, computer, cell phone, electric blanket, and cable television. These are all powered by coal, gas or oil. I am a child of the 70's. I love Mother Earth. But do we really have a choice? I was told that this crop of shale and oil could turn out to be the second largest crop in the world, second to the Mideast. This could be a matter of national security. China is really close to the Mideast.
Part of my job it is to help prepare students for their careers. The information I gathered has me excited at the income potential that will be available to my students. Perhaps now more of the young talent in our county won't be outsourced to other areas of the state. As I continued to attend the various meetings it seemed to me that what I was hearing needed to be released for everyone in Belmont County to hear. So listen up. If you are a business owner check out Shale Directories or contact your local Chamber of Commerce. If you are looking for a well paying job check out the Connections website. If you need to hone up on your skills check out the local colleges. I know Belmont College (previously known as Belmont Technical College) has been working with energy officials to develop programs. If you own an old apartment, house or warehouse somewhere in the county start thinking about fixing it up to rent. Contact the Belmont County Department of Tourism and participate somehow in the Oil and Gas Expo that will be held at the Carnes Center in April.
We, as Belmont County residents, will be competing with neighboring counties for this opportunity. A lot of you reading this will have an opportunity to make some decent money in this industry. Let's do what we can to bolster our economy and perhaps bring us back to the days when employees have the opportunity to earn living wages that could comfortably support their families. Let's get ready!
Thank you for your time.