VALLEY GROVE, W.Va. - Six days a week, Patricia Jinks sends off husband Randall to help build and connect the pipelines that will transport Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas through northern West Virginia.
For some, living in an RV in the recently opened campground along National Road between Triadelphia and Valley Grove may not seem very appealing. But for the Beaumont, Texas-based Jinks family, which has earned a living building pipelines across the country for almost 30 years, it is just a way of life.
Randall "has worked in the Bakken Shale up in North Dakota, so we were up there awhile back. This is a little bit different than that," Patricia Jinks said. "I hope you all don't have too bad of a winter here.
"Most of the pipeline people are family-oriented. We are just like anybody else - this is just what we do for a living," she added.
The work Randall Jinks and hundreds more pipeliners are doing in the Triadelphia and Valley Grove area has led to quite a change in scenery for local residents. From the establishment of the campground, to the trees and brush being removed for the pipeline construction, to the non-stop heavy truck traffic, living and working in this portion of Ohio County is very different compared to how it was for many years.
"It was like it was down and out before. Now, it is just so up and coming," said Laurie Beck, co-owner of Oak Hill Furniture along National Road, regarding the situation. "It's pretty amazing, really."
No matter the time of day or the location, massive trucks carrying sand, water, pipe or heavy equipment for natural gas operations roar along National Road.
"There is a lot of traffic, that's for sure. It's really picked up over the past few months," said Beck.
"The worst traffic is usually from about 10 (a.m.) to about 4:30 (p.m.)."
Darla Ebbert, officer in charge of the Valley Grove Post Office, also said traffic is an issue, noting some of the trucks temporarily park near the post office lot. She really noticed the upswing in activity this spring.
"They are not supposed to park or turn around here," she said, while pointing out two trucks that were parked just off the Post Office lot. "They usually do a pretty good job respecting our rules. Some of them even come in here to use our services."
Ebbert said she generally spends some of her daily break time watching the pipeliners in action. Whether they are clearing trees, building walls or actually installing the lines, she said they are true professionals.
"We are talking about experts here," Ebbert said of the pipeliners. "These people have serious training and skill."
Ebbert watches one particular area where she said pipeliners are installing lines under National Road, noting, "It's an eye-opening experience."
Chesapeake Energy is the only company with active drilling operations in West Virginia's three northernmost counties. Though Chesapeake itself does not build the lines or hire pipeliners, the pipelines will be part of the network that will eventually transport Chesapeake's gas.
Chesapeake spokeswoman Jacque Bland recently said these lines are "part of the normal pipeline construction we've been doing throughout Ohio County."
Dominion Resources also is building an 8-inch pipeline through portions of Ohio County that will lead to its natural gas processing plant along the Ohio River in Marshall County.
Contrary to some who have expressed concerns about the behavior of pipeliners and gas workers, Ebbert and Beck said they have not heard of any problems. Though the truck traffic causes concern, Beck said gaining new business is a pretty fair trade.
"I have not heard about any of them causing trouble," said Beck. "In fact, I've had some of them come into my store, and sold some furniture to them. They seem really nice, at least the ones I've met."
However, a resident who lives just down the road said it would be better if the gas and pipeline companies put more local residents to work.
"Look at how high unemployment is around here. They said this was going to bring in all kind of jobs. What they didn't tell us was that it was going to bring in the jobs for the out-of-state workers they were going to bring in," said the resident who asked to remain anonymous.
"For as much money as they are spending to put these out-of-state people up in this campground down here, they could be spending that money training local people to do these jobs."
The resident said the burgeoning oil and gas industry is an overall positive for the Triadelphia and Valley Grove area, but believes it could be better with more local workers on the job.
Life in a Pipeline Family
Patricia Jinks said that everywhere her husband Randall goes to work, the companies are required to hire a certain number of local employees from every job area. She also said the work is a lot more complicated than some realize.
"There is a lot of skill and training involved in this. Some people think it is easy. But it would be like if my husband just decided one day he wanted to go work in one of your coal mines. He wouldn't have a clue," Jinks said.
She said Randall Jinks regularly puts in 10 hours a day, six days a week.
Along with Randall, Patricia said one of her sons is also working on the pipelines in the local area, while another son is building lines down in Texas.
"It's tough, sometimes, to be away from your family," she said. "But we have been all along the West Coast, all along the East Coast, North Dakota, Missouri. We have seen the Grand Canyon ... those are the places that come to mind."
All the way, Jinks said she and husband Randall travel and stay in their RV.
"We have a home in Texas, but this is like our second home," she said of her RV. "You just get used to it. I would much rather have this than have to worry about finding a hotel room."
Jinks said most of her interactions with the community - inside and outside of the campground - have been positive.
"Everyone has been really nice to us so far. This seems like a pretty nice area," she said. "We help bring money into the area, too. We have to shop."
Hoping to return to Texas by the holiday season to spend time with her children and grandchildren, Jinks said husband Randall's current job is scheduled to run until November.
"It just depends on how long it takes them to get done, though," she said.
"I just hope we get going before you all get a big bunch of snow. This area is a little bit hilly to get trailers out of here."