WHEELING - Drillers believe WorkForce West Virginia's evaluation of their employment levels does not show the whole picture, but union leaders said the numbers prove the gas and oil industry is not hiring locally.
WorkForce, a division of the state Department of Commerce operating under Secretary Keith Burdette and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, shows there were only 2,244 Mountain State oil and gas workers in 2010. The number actually dropped slightly in 2011 to 2,179.
However, the vice president of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia cited a study commissioned by the America's Natural Gas Alliance that shows 16,888 gas workers in the state for 2010. R. Dennis Xander, president of Buckhannon, W.Va.-based Denex Petroleum and vice president of IOGA, said this number is "amazing."
"Between 2008 and 2010, natural gas prices collapsed, falling by something like 60 percent, and still employment is robust," he said. "I think the oil and gas industry should get credit for just maintaining jobs in this economic environment. And yet we are actually growing."
Noting West Virginia's unemployment rate surged to 6.9 percent last month, Xander wonders how high the rate would be without his industry.
"If the Sierra Club ... had their way and were able to shut down drilling, what would West Virginia's unemployment rate be?" he said, emphasizing that this is his personal view, rather than the view of IOGA as a whole.
The report Xander cites lists the 16,888 number for 2010 as the "employment contribution of unconventional gas." The Marcellus and Utica shale formations are considered by the industry to be unconventional because of the horizontal drilling and fracking needed to extract the gas.
This employment contribution statistic is a number that includes jobs created for those working in the drilling fields, but also for those working in support positions. The study refers to this concept as "direct, indirect and induced" jobs. It states that direct gas jobs are for those who "explore, produce, transport and deliver natural gas to consumers or provide critical supplies or on-site services that support unconventional gas activity."
The indirect jobs are held by those who supply material or services for the industry, which may be someone who works for a sand or chemical provider. The induced jobs are those caused by the gas workers spending their money, which could include those working for restaurants or hotels.
However, the WorkForce statistics show the number of West Virginia residents working directly for gas and oil drillers has not increased over the past two years, despite a continued upswing in drilling and fracking.
"Our data comes from all Unemployment Insurance-covered employers themselves. They are required by federal and state law to submit employment and wage information on a quarterly basis," said WorkForce spokeswoman Courtney Sisk.
The Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation and the West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council have long voiced concerns about natural gas companies bringing in workers from southern states. Dave Efaw, secretary-treasurer of the trades council, cited the WorkForce numbers as evidence for his cause.
"West Virginians are watching the natural gas industry grow in their own backyards, as promised, but the sad part is they're not part of the growth or even benefiting from it," he said.
"We see guys in RVs and trucks coming from Texas, Louisiana and other states into our communities to do the jobs local workers can do and getting the paychecks local workers badly need," Efaw continued. "Paychecks earned by local workers stay in West Virginia and help our economy - paychecks earned by Texans get sent home to Texas."
Gas industry jobs paying nearly $30 per hour are on their way to Marshall County soon, as Dominion Resources will look to hire 40-45 full-time, permanent workers for the natural gas processing plant set to open in December. There will be positions for electricians, plant operators and loaders.