Packed House for First-Ever NY NatGas Career Expo

Jobs in the shale gas industry was the focus of the first ever Natural Gas Career and Education Expo held at Broome Community College in Binghamton, NY yesterday. MDN editor Jim Willis attended.

Upon arriving, there was a line of 50 or more people waiting to get in to a packed exhibition area with more than 40 vendors, most of whom were looking for people to fill open positions. Exhibitors ranged from large oil and gas companies like Williams, Cabot Oil & Gas and Chesapeake Energy, to environmental consulting firms, equipment dealers and educational programs. Much of the time between 3 and 7 pm the exhibit area was packed, elbow to elbow, with job seekers. Early estimates MDN heard were that more than 400 2,300 people attended the four hour event (see this article by the Press & Sun-Bulletin).

Running alongside the exhibition was a series of seminars focused on the kinds of job opportunities available in the Marcellus and Utica Shale drilling industry. One of the presenters was Bob Williams, an environmental consultant for more than 40 years and a member of Gov. Cuomo’s Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel. Bob spoke about the different jobs available in environmental consulting. An interesting point he made during his presentation: More than 700 natural gas wells have been drilled in New York in the past two years. They were conventional vertical gas wells. The general public does not seem to realize how active the drilling industry is (and has been for years) in New York State. Bob said the very first natural gas well drilled in the U.S. was in New York in the 1800s.

Another speaker was Barry Butler from Wildlife Specialists, located in Wellsboro, PA. Barry spoke of exciting work for those interested in plants, animals and the outdoors. His company does survey work in charting wetlands, endangered species, rattlesnake nests (a big issue in PA with drilling and pipelines), and bats. Yes bats. They have done extensive surveys of capturing and cataloging bats, in particular looking for Indiana bats, an endangered species. Barry said that because of the natural gas business, we are now surveying and documenting hundreds of species we didn’t even know lived in the Marcellus region.

Invasive species of plants are a big deal with trucks coming and going from drilling sites. Sometimes those trucks can introduce plants that take root and damage local habitats. Barry’s company monitors and sprays to prevent it. He said point blank that because of natural gas drilling, ecology and preservation of plant and animal species is actually improving. That is, natural gas drilling is good for the environment—a fact you don’t often hear mentioned.

Dave Black, President of Tri City Highway Products and Contour Construction told the story of how his construction firm went from employing 49 people last June to 134 people by the end of February this year—almost tripling in size. And the increase, all of it, was from the natural gas drilling industry across the border in Pennsylvania. Dave’s firm employs surveyors, engineers, truck drivers and workers of various kinds. And he’s looking for more people to add. He said that in all of his years in the business, he’s never seen anything like the expansion he’s seen because of natural gas drilling. And these are “real jobs” according to Dave, jobs that will last a long time.

Dave, as well as other speakers, pointed out the “trickle down” effect from the drilling industry. Dave has spent “millions of dollars” on new equipment in the last year, funding at least one job for an equipment salesperson. He pointed out that hotels fill up with workers, and restaurants see a huge increase in business. Both hotels and restaurants then hire more people. Eventually, more hotels and restaurants are built, providing construction jobs. And those who work for the drilling industry, or for companies servicing the industry, generate incomes that get spent locally. People buy new vehicles, providing jobs for automobile dealers. They buy new homes, or even build new homes if housing becomes tight, providing a myriad of jobs in real estate, construction, home furnishings and more. They shop in local stores, pay more in local taxes…the point? Natural gas drilling has a huge economic impact far beyond landowners and drilling companies.

When MDN heard numbers bandied about for wages from the various speakers, it ranged anywhere from $15-$20 per hour starting for unskilled workers to $50  per hour or more for skilled workers. Gregory Sovas, former director of the Division of Mineral Resources for New York State and current president of XRM Environmental Consulting said across all Marcellus Shale workers, the average wage is $79,000 per year. But be prepared to work and work hard, according to Cabot Oil & Gas representatives Chad Gorman and Brody Webster. Chad is a water resource engineer with Cabot, and Brody is an environmental health and safety specialist. According to them, most of the available jobs in the drilling industry are not 9 to 5 jobs but 12 hour per day, six days a week jobs. One speaker mentioned that their workers routinely work 50 hours per week, and some will work up to 70 hours per week. “Lots of overtime if you want it.”

Which professions are most in demand right now? The one that MDN heard mentioned several times is in the area of GIS, or geographic information systems. GIS uses databases to capture, store, analyze, and display information related to the location of oil and gas well sites, pipelines, compressor stations, roads and other facilities. Good with computers and databases? Have an interest in geology and the physical sciences? Consider a career in GIS. And if you get out “in the field” at some point, be sure to keep an eye out for the bats and the rattlesnakes. 😉