As oil and natural gas companies frack through West Virginia's Marcellus Shale field, they are scooping up some Division of Highways workers along the way.
The Northern Panhandle's District 6 now has 45 open positions, while there are 309 vacancies throughout the Mountain State. These governmental positions are coming open as drillers, pipeliners and processors continue expanding their operations.
"Some of the vacancies can be attributed to the oil and natural gas industry. It is hard for us to provide the same level of starting pay," said Brent Walker, director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Transportation. "You cannot ignore the effect it has on us."
Photo by Casey Junkins
Jeff Hill, operator with the West Virginia Division of Highways, attaches a snow plow to a truck at the Moundsville office. The division has 309 vacant positions throughout the state, including 45 in the Northern Panhandle, partially due to oil and natural gas companies hiring away employees.
District 6 includes the six oil and natural gas activity-heavy Northern Panhandle counties. District 4 also sees significant Marcellus work across northern West Virginia from Morgantown to Clarksburg, and has 53 vacant positions in Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston and Taylor counties.
"This has been an issue for us before the oil and gas industry," Walker said. "It is just more pronounced now."
According to Walker, the remainder of the 309 statewide vacancies break down as follows:
Despite the vacancies, Walker said motorists need not worry about the division's ability to clear snow and ice from roads this winter, as officials can pull workers together to remove the precipitation.
"We are always looking for new workers," he added.
"Some people start with us and make a career out of it. Others decide to move on for whatever reason."
Some, including Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, have wondered whether a shortage of DOH employees is contributing to poor road conditions throughout the Northern Panhandle. Much of the problems come from heavy trucks traveling to fracking sites.
During the approximately 17-mile southward journey from Moundsville to Cameron along U.S. 250, drivers commonly see a variety of drilling-related trucks passing by going northward.
These trucks may include some so-called "sand cans," which transport fracking sand to the gas well sites, frack water trucks, pickup trucks with Texas license plates, trucks carrying drilling equipment to the sites, and the lead "escort" vehicles that guide the oversized trucks down the road.
However, Walker said that any road problems in the Northern Panhandle would be due to planning and the cost of materials, rather than a shortage of workers.
"If we are unable to get to certain things, it would not be because of a lack of employees," he said.
Mountain State residents can directly request road repairs by visiting: www.wva.state.wv.us/wvdot/roadrepairrequest/default.aspx.