WVNCC to Offer Gas Job Training

College says it will hold informational meetings in April

Wheeling WV  Intelligencer
10 March 2011
By Casey Junkins

WHEELING - Those looking for jobs in the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling business are in luck, as West Virginia Northern Community College will soon offer training for the work.

Even though they are unsure how many local jobs ultimately will result from the burgeoning gas industry, Dave Knuth and Terry Sterling are convinced the rush will generate enough activity to "upgrade everyone's economy."

Oglebay Park's Wilson Lodge hosted a Wednesday business expo to allow gas drillers such as Chesapeake Energy to interact with local businesses, giving area vendors a chance to make their pitches in hopes of attracting business from the drillers.

"There is potential for a huge economic impact from the Marcellus Shale," said Sterling, president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce. "They are really just getting started in this area."

"This can be an upgrade to everyone's economy," said Knuth, president of the Marshall County Chamber of Commerce. "Look at what the oil rush did for Dallas and all of Texas."

One of the primary concerns many have expressed is that gas drillers operating in the area are bringing employees from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and other states to work in West Virginia. Local union leaders and local legislators believe the gas companies need to hire more local workers.

After consulting with Chesapeake and other gas companies, WVNCC officials decided to offer the courses. Training to be available at the New Martinsville campus will include courses for deck hands, roustabouts, welders and truck drivers.

J. Michael Koon, vice president of Economic and Workforce Development for WVNCC, said informational meetings should begin in April. Koon can be reached at mkoon@ wvncc.edu for more information.

"We need to get people in on the entry level so they can get some experience," he said. "Some of the jobs are so specific that they would need to be trained on a specific drilling rig at a particular well site."

During a recent conference in Charleston, Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon said his company plans to invest as much as $50 billion in the Mountain State to extract and develop natural gas over the next several years. McClendon noted, however, that the company is having a hard time finding skilled employees to work at its West Virginia operations.

He even said about 30 percent of those applying for jobs with Chesapeake fail the firm's drug test.

Koon said consulting with Chesapeake, WorkForce West Virginia and local chambers of commerce is allowing the school to create applicable curriculum.

Doug Patterson, a development specialist for the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce, said the Marcellus rush is a "great opportunity to take advantage of our natural resources."

"There are always going to be isolated incidents of things going wrong," Patterson said regarding concerns about possible water contamination, air pollution, explosions and traffic accidents related to natural gas drilling.

As for the expo, Knuth said gas companies need work clothing, boots, piping, welding equipment, gloves, fittings, fire protection equipment, financial services suppliers and chiropractors.

"Welding a 24-inch pipe together while having to climb down in a hole is hard on your back," Knuth said.

Bridgeport Equipment and Tool was one firm on hand that showed off a mannequin wearing examples of fire-resistant clothing the company offers for sale to gas drillers. Other local companies represented included United Bank and the McLure Hotel.

The Wednesday event was sponsored by Chesapeake, Project BEST and the Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel chambers.