W.Va. Fracking Industry Spurs IBEW Jobs
August 30, 2013
The IBEW’s efforts to tap into good jobs in the booming energy sector are seeing big results in West Virginia, with hundreds of members hard at work building and maintaining the infrastructure needed to get the Mountaineer State’s rich natural gas load to market.
“We’ve had full employment for three years straight,” says Wheeling Local 141 Business Manager John Clarke. The Northern Panhandle region, which is in the middle of the Marcellus Shale gas deposit, is also home to hundreds of travelers taking advantage of the region’s newfound work.
The majority of the work is in the midstream sector, which includes building and maintaining plants that extract valuable liquids like ethane from the gas. It also includes constructing the pipelines to transport it for sale on the market.
And the boom is being felt across the building trades.
Ohio Valley Building Trades Council President Tom Gray told the Public News Service that nearly every construction trade is seeing growth. “There are 15 different crafts that make up the upper Ohio Valley building trades, and all of those crafts are taking people,” he said.
But it was not always the case, says Clarke, who also represents the Third District one the International Executive Council. When the natural gas boom began a few years ago, the biggest player in the local market was Dominion Resources Inc., a nonunion Virginia-based company.
“Most of the folks they used around here were from out-of-state – Texas, Oklahoma,” said Clarke. The IBEW was stuck on the sidelines, coming in at the last minute to bail out projects when nonunion contractors fell behind schedule.
The lack of local hiring meant that the record profits being made by energy companies weren’t benefiting the local community. Ironically, the place with some of highest levels of natural gas production in the country also has higher-than-average unemployment, with more than 15 percent of Wheeling-area residents living below the poverty line. And Wetzel County, south of Wheeling, continues to suffer from double-digit jobless rates.
At the same time, the Upper Ohio Valley boasts more than 20,000 skilled construction workers – many of whom were sitting on bench while every hotel and motel in the area was filled with out-of-state workers.
It was enough of a problem that the local building trades and elected officials formed a coalition to demand energy companies working in the shale region hire local residents.
“As stakeholders in West Virginia, we believe economic development generated by Marcellus Shale in our state should create real improvements for our communities by raising the standard of living among residents,” wrote the coalition, which has been endorsed by more than 20 counties and municipalities.
Things started to turn around a few years earlier, says Clarke. Camian Energy, a Texas-based midstream company, began working in the Marcellus Shale in 2009, but had never signed a project labor agreement before. After some bad experiences with nonunion companies, including delays and budgetary overruns, management decided to give signatory contractor Chapman Corp. a chance wiring a new gas processing plant.
The contractor finished the job on-time and under budget, and Camian has used the IBEW since.
Caiman and Dominion officials announced last December they were forming a $1.5 billion joint venture to provide midstream services throughout West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, a move that has been praised by building trades activists because nearly all the work for the newly formed Blue Race Midstream LLC is being done by local, union craftsmen.
“It’s good to see local jobs going to local residents,” said Clarke. And with natural gas production in Pennsylvania and West Virginia continuing to rise – up 50 percent from last year alone – West Virginia construction workers are looking forward to an increasingly rosy jobs picture.