FAIRMONT, W.Va. - Testifying before a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday, Marshall County Sheriff John Gruzinskas said some subcontractors working for Marcellus Shale natural gas companies are "disrespectful" to his residents.
And Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he wants to know why more Mountain State residents are not getting the chance to work for the natural gas drillers, particularly in the area of transportation.
Rockefeller, who serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said he wanted to hold the hearing in Fairmont, W.Va., to highlight the state's issues related to natural gas drilling.
Photo by Casey Junkins
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., center, officiates a special hearing Wednesday in Fairmont, W.Va. Flanking Rockefeller are Republican Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito.
Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito, both R-W.Va., joined Rockefeller during the hearing, held at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center, to question those involved with the natural gas drilling industry that is booming in the state, particularly in the Northern Panhandle. Topics ranged from road damage to pipeline regulation to manufacturing employment opportunities.
Gruzinskas thanked companies like Chesapeake Energy, Caiman Energy and Consol Energy subsidiary CNX Gas Corp. for generally cooperating with his deputies and constituents. However, some of the oilfield services subcontractors - who may be performing well drilling, fracking, construction, or other work on behalf of companies like Chesapeake and Consol - are presenting the problems, he said.
"What I see is the disrespectful attitude and disregard for the residents of this county by some of these subcontractors," Gruzinskas wrote in his official Senate testimony. "The distrust and animosity still remains between the subcontractors and the citizens."
Comparing the Marshall County natural gas rush to "an invasion," the sheriff wrote, "The drivers are not from here, so they do not care what happens as a result of their reckless operation. Our roads are destroyed by these overloaded vehicles.
"They freely admit that they would much rather run illegally and get caught and pay the fine, than have to hire extra men to do the job right, because it's cheaper."
Following the hearing, Gruzinskas said he believes an upswing in property crimes and DUIs during the last two years is probably because of the subcontractors. He said his 20 deputies have to cover about 400 square miles, making it hard to thoroughly patrol the county, considering the huge influx of drilling activity.
Picking up on the out-of-state worker theme, Rockefeller questioned Randy Albert, chief operating officer of Consol's gas division, about why more truck drivers working in the state are not from West Virginia. Albert emphasized Consol employs more than 4,300 Mountain State residents - and encourages its subcontractors to hire locally.
"However, I can't mandate to my subcontractors, 'You have to employ X number of West Virginians,'" Albert said.
This, however, did not satisfy Rockefeller, as he interrupted Albert to say, "You know - I think you can."
Following some more discussion, Albert said he is "sensitive" to the idea of giving opportunities to West Virginia residents, adding, "I didn't come here wearing cowboy boots from the state of Texas."
Scott Rotruck, Chesapeake vice president of Corporate Development and State Government Relations, said although trucks may feature license plates from other states, this does not necessarily mean the person driving the truck is from one of those states because many of the employees work in multiple states.
Responding to a question from Capito regarding employment, Rotruck said, "It is always better for us to hire locally. Are there problems? Yes ma'am."
West Virginia Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox said after hearing of Gruzinskas' problems, he will look into imposing some speed limits for the roads on which the subcontractors are driving.
Mattox wanted to also focus on the positive work that companies like Chesapeake are doing in the communities. He said most road damage is fixed by the gas operators, totaling about $20 million in road repairs last year alone.
"By agreements with the companies, slides have been repaired, sight distances improved, curves widened, pipes replaced and roads widened," he said.