In Pennsylvania, Employment Booms Amid Oil And Natural Gas Bust

Loading
Error

/

Download
Embed Code

Copy/paste the following code

Donate

Students at the Pennsylvania College of Technology are learning a technique called "tripping pipe," moving a pipe from a stack into a horizontal position and lowering it down into a well.  The students train on a practice drilling rig to learn how to be roustabouts. (NPR)
Students at the Pennsylvania College of Technology are learning a technique called "tripping pipe," moving a pipe from a stack into a horizontal position and lowering it down into a well. The students train on a practice drilling rig to learn how to be roustabouts. (NPR)

Lower oil and natural gas prices have the petroleum industry laying off tens of thousands of workers. It looks like a decade-long trend of job growth in the U.S. oil business may end.

But there are parts of the country where those job numbers are still rising. Pennsylvania is one of them.

Randy Stroup sees evidence of that where he lives in Williamsport, Pa.

"You can drive down the road and see the amount of oil and gas trucks with their names on the side," he says.

Stroup recently finished the ShaleNet training program at Pennsylvania College of Technology, where students combine classroom time with experience on a mock drilling rig the school owns.

Now Stroup is looking for work and he's optimistic about the future of the natural gas business in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale region. "There is a great abundance of natural gas in the area," Stroup says, "and the country needs cheap and efficient, clean-burning fuels like natural gas."

More than 100 students have completed the roustabout training, according to the college, and 98 percent landed jobs right away at an average rate of $16.15 per hour.

"It's not unheard of, if they're working with a lot of overtime, for a roustabout to get up into that $70,000 to $80,000 range," says Tracy Brundage, vice president for Workforce Development at the college.

The college teaches other skills valuable to oil and gas companies, such as welding and repairing diesel engines.

William Miller, 18, is learning to fix the kind of huge diesel-powered generators that drillers often use out in the field. He's confident there will be work when he graduates in a couple of years.

"There's tons of jobs, especially upcoming," says Miller. "The whole workforce is kind of old, so they're getting ready to retire."

The industry calls this "the great crew change." After the oil bust in the 1980s a lot of companies stopped hiring new workers. That's left an aging workforce with not enough trained people to replace them.

"One of the ways to avoid a situation like that — where you have significant generational gaps in the workforce — is to continue to train people to move into those jobs," says Brundage. She says that's happening in Pennsylvania. Despite lower natural gas prices, the industry is still hiring.

Well-paying jobs are exactly what many were hoping for when the drilling boom came to Pennsylvania, says Katie McGinty, chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf (D-Pa.).

"Pennsylvania has gone from pretty much nowhere on the map in terms of natural gas production to now second in the country behind only Texas," says McGinty.

When drilling rigs started showing up, McGinty says residents worried the good jobs would go to out-of-state workers, leaving locals with nothing but the environmental consequences of drilling.

"In the early days, those concerns were exacerbated by too many people seeing nothing but Texas and Oklahoma license plates," says McGinty. That's changing, she says, as more locals learn the skills necessary to work in the gas business.

The latest figures show more than 31,000 people in the state have jobs related to extracting natural gas. That's nearly double what it was five years ago. State officials say the rate of employment growth in the gas fields has slowed recently, but for now it's still growing.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Related:

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And it looks like a decade of job growth in the U.S. oil business has ended. Lower oil and natural gas prices have drillers laying off tens of thousands of workers. But there are parts of the country where companies are still hiring. NPR's Jeff Brady reports from Pennsylvania, which is one of them.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: There are young people optimistic about the future of the oil and gas business, and they can be found at a training site outside Williamsport, Pa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOCK DRILLING RIG)

BRADY: On this gravel lot, there's a mock drilling rig. It produces no oil or gas. It's used to train a new generation of entry-level workers called roustabouts. Three students guide heavy steel drill pipe down through the rig floor. They wear bright orange gloves so the instructor can see their hands. One wrong move can lead to injury.

CLAIRE KERSTETTER: All the different rig hands are working together really well, actually.

BRADY: Claire Kerstetter already finished this three-week program at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. Now she works on fracking jobs.

KERSTETTER: I am a fluid technician. It's also known as quality control specialist.

BRADY: You like it?

KERSTETTER: I do. I love it. It's a lot of fun.

BRADY: What do you like about it?

KERSTETTER: I like the challenge, not only physically, but intellectually as well.

BRADY: Students here learn other skills valuable to drilling companies, too. A big shop on campus is a classroom for aspiring diesel mechanics.

So what are you doing here?

WILLIAM MILLER: We're reassembling our engine.

BRADY: Eighteen-year-old William Miller says this engine powers the kind of generators drillers use.

MILLER: Seeing as how they're out basically in the middle of nowhere, they have to create their own power, so this creates their power for them.

BRADY: Miller has heard about layoffs around the country. Most of those are in oilfields where drillers are adjusting to a sharp drop in crude prices. Here in Pennsylvania, companies are looking for natural gas, not oil. Those prices are low, too. Still, Miller is confident there'll be work when he graduates in a couple of years.

MILLER: Yeah, there are tons of jobs, and especially upcoming. The whole workforce is kind of old, so they're getting ready to retire.

BRADY: The industry calls this the great crew change. After the oil bust in the 1980s, a lot of companies stopped hiring new workers. That's left an aging workforce with not enough trained people to replace them. Tracy Brundage is vice president for Workforce Development at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

TRACY BRUNDAGE: One of the ways to avoid a situation like that where you have significant generational gaps in the workforce is to continue to train people to move into those jobs.

BRADY: She says that's happening here. Despite lower natural gas prices, the industry is still hiring. Brundage says more than 100 students have finished roustabout training and 98 percent got jobs. Average starting pay is more than $16 an hour.

BRUNDAGE: It's not unheard of if they're working, you know, with a lot of overtime for a roustabout, you know, to get up into that 70,000-$80,000 range.

BRADY: Good-paying jobs are exactly what many were hoping for when the drilling boom came to Pennsylvania, says Katie McGinty. She's chief of staff to Governor Tom Wolf.

KATIE MCGINTY: Pennsylvania's gone from pretty much nowhere on the map in terms of natural gas production to now second in the country behind only Texas.

BRADY: McGinty says when drilling rigs started showing up, residents worried all the good jobs would go to out-of-state workers, leaving locals with nothing but the environmental consequences of drilling.

MCGINTY: In the early days of the industry, those concerns were exacerbated by too many people seeing nothing but Texas and Oklahoma license plates in and around the shale gas fields.

BRADY: That's changing, she says, as more locals learn the skills necessary to work in the gas business. The latest figures show more than 31,000 people in the state have jobs related to extracting natural gas. That's about double what it was five years ago. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.