Roughneck Fest puts face on Marcellus workers

| Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, 12:05 a.m.

Bill Golish says one of the hardest aspects of his job as a laborer working on Marcellus shale rigs in Western Pennsylvania is the long time between visits with his family.

“Its a different world,” he said. “You never know where the road is going to take you.”

That road can be difficult, the men and women who work in the industry said.

Golish, 33, of Wellsville, N.Y., spent two months in Oklahoma this summer working as a roughneck, or laborer, on oil rigs in 110-degree heat.

“Like my daughter says, ‘Most daddies wear suits; mine wears a hard hat and boots,' ” he said on Sunday while waiting to compete in an arm wrestling match at the first Roughneck Fest at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

Golish works 28 days and is off for 14, every other month.

“It's rough on all of us; I'm tired of living out of a hotel,” said Parry Rogers, 36, of Randolph, Ohio. “It gets old.”

The workers don't boast a lot of modern-day flash. Their pickups bear bumper stickers such as “Oilfield Trash” and “Been There, Wrecked That.”

The uniform of the day is jeans, shirts, ball caps. These are men whose handshake is like grasping a brick. They work hard — from dark to dark, they say — and play harder.

The Roughneck Fest was established to show another side of the industry, said Scott Bradley of Baldwin, one of its organizers.

“So far, the face of the industry has been the big corporations destroying the Earth,” he said. “We wanted to show another face — the working man.”

The day opened with the Weedrags, a bluegrass band, performing Merle Haggard's “Working Man Blues.”

“Yeah, I drink a little beer in a tavern, cry a little bit of these working man blues,” the band sang.

The men and women who work in the oil and gas industry say they're drawn to it because they like working outside and the pay and benefits are good.

“I've got six kids, and I needed a career,” said Golish, who became a roughneck eight years ago when his construction business went sour because of the economy.

The average wage of Marcellus shale laborers in Pennsylvania in 2010 was $30,490, the state Department of Labor and Industry said. That climbed to $35,390 in 2011. Total employment in the industry in Pennsylvania is 234,000.

Randy Plants believes the growth in Marcellus shale jobs is his ticket to retirement.

“I spent 20 years on the road. I'm hoping Marcellus shale will allow me to retire here,” said Plants, 42, of Claysville, who works as a pipeliner for gas transmission companies and has been able to stick close to home of late.

Jay Guthrie, 42, formerly of Franklin Park, got started by working on Texas oil rigs 14 years ago. In addition to Pennsylvania, he has worked in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Louisiana, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Ohio.

One year, he was home three months out of 12.

The lure of the Marcellus shale is as strong as the Texas oil boom during the early part of the 20th century, he said.

“When they hear (something like Marcellus shale), they go. ... We're all here to make money,” said Guthrie, who has been traveling here for the past seven years and is president of Commander Energy Services.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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