PARKERSBURG - With natural gas drilling operations starting up in a number of areas, some are starting to see an increase in employment as development begins and wells are being set up to tap into the Marcellus Shale deposit.
According to WorkForce West Virginia, during the first quarter of 2013 there was six units in Wood County doing oil and gas extraction with 20 employees paying a total of $161,918 with an average weekly wage of $622.77.
In other area counties:
* Calhoun County had 12 units doing oil and gas extraction with 52 employees paying a total of $436,797 with an average weekly wage of $646.15.
* Doddridge County had seven units doing oil and gas extraction with 51 employees paying a total of $948,417 with an average weekly wage of $1,430.46.
* Pleasants County had four units doing oil and gas extraction with 28 employees paying a total of $374,749 with an average weekly wage of $1,029.54.
* Ritchie County had 21 units doing oil and gas extraction with 158 employees paying a total of $1,724,258 with an average weekly wage of $839.46.
* Roane County had 27 units doing oil and gas extraction with 105 employees paying a total of $733,660 with an average weekly wage of $537.46.
* Gilmer County had nine units doing oil and gas extraction with 149 employees paying a total of $1,671,203 with an average weekly wage of $862.77.
WorkForce West Virginia had nothing listed for Wirt and Jackson counties.
Officials with WorkForce said the data in some areas was not available. However, they said support activities for oil and gas operations as well as work on oil and gas pipeline and related structures have shown the most growth statewide.
A number of area residents have joined together with property in Wood, Ritchie, Calhoun, Roane, Jackson and Wirt counties to market to oil and gas companies for development. The landowners will be meeting soon to determine which company they will be working with.
In 2012, Workforce Investment Area 4, which includes Calhoun, Clay, Jackson, Mason, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Wirt and Wood counties, had 82 units doing oil and gas extraction with 452 employees paying a total of $18,979768 with an average weekly wage of $807.52.
Charlie Burd, with the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said areas like Wood County could have more people working at gas/oil sites around the region who have to drive somewhere out of the area to go to work.
There are also a number of areas that have permits in place but no gas operations yet, Burd said.
"A permit does not equal a well," Burd said, adding most permits are for two years.
A lot of the focus has been put in regions around Wetzel, Tyler and Doddridge counties as well as the northern panhandle which have more liquid rich deposits of natural gas, Burd said. He said not too much has been done around Wood County.
There is also a lot of work to be done in getting sites ready for drilling.
"There are a number of local people working in the industry," said Denny Harton of GasSearch Corp. in Parkersburg. "It started predominately with landmen and abstractors working in the area courthouses to identify lease positions.
"Next came excavators who are constructing the drilling pads for multi horizontal well drilling and completion from a single drill site. Then of course pipelines are being constructed and processing plants are being built. All of these are labor-intensive endeavors that require varying amounts of skilled labor as well as opportunities for geologists, engineers and legal professionals," he said.
In order to get workers the necessary skills for the emerging oil/gas industry in West Virginia, Harton said there are a number of training opportunities available to help train the workforce for future opportunities.
The "Petroleum Technology Program," developed by the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia, started this fall semester and is being jointly conducted at Pierpont Community and Technical College in Fairmont and West Virginia Northern Community College in Wheeling.
"These programs are designed to train the workforce of tomorrow and prepare young people for an exciting and lucrative career," Harton said. "Much has been said about the fact that many out-of-state workers are in the state and while to that some degree is true, I believe much that sector of the labor pool will be displaced by local workers once they gain the expertise."
Harton believes if Wood County can get the proposed ethane cracker plant, the area would see a significant increase in economic development.
"That would be a gain," he said. "It might require some tort reform for West Virginia to get the plant, however.
"Companies are still scared to death of our legal system and they should be."
Harton said it is not just gas companies that are concerned about the state's legal system. Any company looks at the judicial climate anywhere they might be considering making a significant investment, he added.
"There have been improvements to certain areas of the judicial system that were primarily focused on keeping doctors in the state," he said. "When all other elements considered for investment are equal or near equal with competing states, West Virginia loses because our judicial system is viewed as allowing far more abuse than nearly any other state.
"If the Legislature were to reform the tort system, I am confident that effort alone would put West Virginia on an equal footing with other states and that more jobs and economic opportunity would follow."