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Shale still yields jobs, panel says

Joe Napsha
| Friday, July 20, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Despite the drop in natural gas prices that has slowed drilling in Pennsylvania, plenty of jobs remain available related to the gas production in the state's vast Marcellus shale reserves, panels of government and business representatives said Thursday.

“There are so many jobs beyond the drilling. There are mechanics jobs and sales jobs and a lot of infrastructure jobs for those in farming. They (gas producers) need the support services. I think we (agriculture) are a forgotten industry,” said Rick Ebert, a Derry Township dairy farmer who is vice president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, a statewide trade organization.

Landscaping workers, equipment operators and those who can repair the equipment are among the gas industry-related positions that still are needed in the state, panelists said at the Keystone Energy Forum's business and education symposium at Westmoreland County Community College near Youngwood.

“If you want a job, you can get a job,” in the natural gas or related industries, said Jason C. Fink, executive vice president of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.

Among those looking for a job in the industry are Robert Lisovich of North Charleroi, a California University of Pennsylvania graduate with a degree in criminal science and geographical information systems. Lisovich said he has enrolled in a gas industry training program at the community college to put him in a better position to get a job.

The industry is opening up highly skilled jobs for engineers and others who can have “portable careers,” said former Republican congressman Phil English of Erie, now a government relations adviser for the law firm of Arent Fox of Washington.

The natural gas industry not only has jobs for those wanting to work for companies, but has afforded opportunities to entrepreneurs, said Westmoreland County Commissioner Tyler Courtney.

“It's opening up all sorts of doors for people wanting to open their own business,” said Courtney, who had represented landowners dealing with gas producers prior to being elected county commissioner last year.

With natural gas producers drilling fewer gas wells into the state's Marcellus shale reserves this year. the industry is shifting focus to building transmission pipelines to move gas to the East Coast and southern United States, Fink said.

There industry has drilled 836 horizontal gas wells from Jan. 1 to July 15, down from 988 for the same period last year, the state Department of Environmental Protection said.

The drop in drilling activity coincides with the decline in natural gas prices, which fell just below $3 per million British Thermal Units this week, from an average of $3.98 per million BTUs in 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The price had averaged $4.37 per million BTUs in 2010.

While the low natural gas prices may, in the short-term impact certain jobs, the low prices are “spurring job creation in the manufacturing, chemical and transportation industries,” said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Robinson-based trade group. A new Bank of America Merrill Lynch study indicates that natural gas development supports nearly 240,000 jobs in the state, Klaber said.

As much as the gas industry has benefited the state's economy, it has posed challenges for the state's environment and infrastructure, the panelists said.

The regulations have to be based on sound science and best practices, English said.

While local officials and residents need to have a say in those regulations, Hempfield supervisor Tom Logan said he sees the need for consistent, statewide rules for natural gas producers.

“I don't think we can grow this industry by letting the regulations be on a local basis,” Logan said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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