WARREN, Ohio - With the Marcellus Shale poised to become the most productive natural gas field in the U.S., workers in the Mahoning Valley likewise are poised to realize new employment opportunities relative to the drilling industry.
New data released recently from energy industry analysts and the federal government indicates, though serious drilling only began five years ago, the sheer volume of Marcellus production suggests that in some ways there's no going back.
The top spot for the Marcellus "doesn't surprise me," said Jay Apt, a professor of technology at Carnegie Mellon University. "But will it lead to industries that spring up to use that gas?" he asked, adding that much of the bounty could also end up being shipped to Canada, the Gulf Coast or overseas.
In 2008, Marcellus production barely registered on national energy reports. In July, the combined output from Pennsylvania and West Virginia wells was about 7.4 billion cubic feet per day, according to Kyle Martinez, an analyst at Bentek Energy. That's more than double the 3.6 billion cubic feet from last April, and represents over 25 percent of national shale gas production.
That's neck-and-neck with production from the Haynesville region in Arkansas and Texas, but new drilling permits there have declined sharply.
Workers in the Mahoning Valley, hoping to benefit from drilling into both the Marcellus and Utica Shales are hoping to tap into new jobs being created by the massive pockets of natural gas and oil reserves deep below the earth's surface.
Experts say the jobs already created in Pennsylvania are paying an average wage of $81,000 per year in core industries.
"With over 10,000 jobs created last year alone, and studies projecting the creation of over 204,000 jobs through 2015, it's important that Ohioans know what great opportunities exist here in the Buckeye State," said Dan Alfaro, spokesperson for Energy In Depth, a state website created by the petroleum industry focusing on shale-related jobs opportunities. "Energy in Depth Ohio is committed to ensuring Ohioans are in the best possible position to take advantage of these opportunities. This site helps facilitate that by providing a direct connection between the industry and our communities - an important step in putting Ohio back to work, and returning prosperity to our state."
In 2010, V&M Star introduced its expansion project, a rolling pipe mill to manufacture drilling pipe for the oil and gas industry. That new mill brings 350 new jobs with it. Last November, V&M affiliate VAM USA committed to expanding the expansion at the site by building a pipe-finishing mill in the old Sheet and Tube building bringing another 100 jobs.
As of the end of 2011, TMK IPSCO's Brookfield pipe plant reported 15 percent growth since January 2009, to employ more than 2,500 employees. More than 325 employees had been hired since 2009, including 59 in 2010 and 34 in 2011. Dearing compressor brought on 20 employees in 2010 and De-Cal Industries out of Michigan has already expanded into the Valley and Wheeling Tube has similar plans.
Exterran Energy and Mahoning County One Stop have collaborated to begin Exterran's hiring process in the Valley. Exterran specializes in building and servicing oil and gas compression equipment. The company is currently constructing a new plant on the West Side of Youngstown opening up 80 positions with about half of those for welders and fitters and the other half professional positions like engineers and project managers.
The application process has several steps, the first an information session that was held Monday at One Stop. Exterran is looking for long-term employees.
"There are professional positions such as engineer's controller, managerial positions, human resource management position open. So they really, they're starting from the ground up here and also they have everyone in those capacities in other locations. They need a local workforce here and they're looking to hire rather than to bring people in for those positions," said Mary Ann Kochalko, chief operating officer for Ohio One Stop.
Last week U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, and Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, announced a $135,000 five-year federal grant awarded to the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396, which will be used train 60 new welders and 10 foremen per year for work on shale-related jobs.
Alfaro said welding is one job that will be in very high demand as the exploration of shale progresses.
"Welding is gonna be the job that is in greatest demand right now, if you look at pipelines and infrastructure, as well as on the well site, it's one of those occupations that translates well down the line," he said.