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Drilling Industry Gives Former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Plant New Life in Benwood

Benwood Facility Providing 25 Jobs

Photo by Casey Junkins Chris Harris, partner with JLE Industries, showcases the 80,000-square-foot facility his company is using to inspect and repair pipe used in the natural gas industry.

BENWOOD — The Marcellus and Utica shale industry is breathing life into an 80,000-square-foot building not used since the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. closed it in 1983. Now 25 workers are using the space to inspect and repair metal tubes used to drill oil and natural gas wells.

Chris Harris, partner with Dunbar, Pa.-based JLE Industries, said his company chose the Benwood property because of its central location in the heart of the Marcellus and Utica region. He and his employees got into a little bit more work than they originally envisioned, however.

“The building had not been in a functional use for 30 years. We had to pressure wash the floor 10 times and sandblast it twice,” he said. “The electrical system was from the 1950s or before. We had to totally redo that.”

Now, with fully refurbished overhead cranes and spray foam insulation installed along the walls, the interior of the building looks fresh and new. Harris and his team also installed new concrete slabs for their equipment.

Harris said his company does not own the building, but has a “long-term lease” on it with Mull Group Inc. Although he declined to specify salary levels for employees, Harris said the 25 jobs pay “middle-class wages.”

“The community has been extremely supportive and helpful. They want to see jobs created,” Harris said. “We are so fortunate to have these amazing resources right here under our feet. This is one of the largest gas fields in the whole world.”

Harris said his company accepts pipe used as tubing, casing and drill piping. In the Marcellus and Utica region, wells can feature depths of up to three miles, not including the horizontal legs that can stretch for another three miles.

“The depths drillers go to in this region can create a lot of purses. This can cause down-hole failure,” Harris said. “We have the ability at our shop to repair these pipes.”

Harris declined to name which companies his firm performs pipe work for, but said JLE is the “primary bidder” for some of them.

“This is such a great centralized location for this business,” he said, adding the facility has access to road, barge and rail transportation.

Harris said his company maintains a steady stream of business, despite the decline in drilling across the region during the last two years. As natural gas prices slowly recover, more drilling will lead to more work for JLE, he believes.

“We are going to continue to grow. The goal is to become a 24-hour operation,” he said. “We believe the work and volume will continue to improve.”

Harris said “about half” of his current workforce live within a 30-mile radius of the plant, but he sees this number increasing in the future. A certain number of employees with “expertise” had to come from outside the area to get the work started, he said.

Retired Wheeling-Pitt employee Joe Trubiano said his late father, Amedea Trubiano, worked at the Benwood steel plant from 1945 until the time it closed in 1983. He is glad to see the facility get some new life.

“Some of us are going to get together to go down and see it,” Trubiano said of the JLE operation. “It’s sort of come full-circle because that was where Wheeling-Pitt. made their pipe.”

Trubiano said the JLE shop is one example of how the Marcellus and Utica shale boom positively impacts the area.

“It’s a spinoff of the new industry in this area — the shale industry,” Trubiano said. “At least guys are working there and making decent wages.”

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