Local vendors benefit from booming shale

WHEELING – Eagle Manufacturing soon will hire about 25 additional employees as it prepares to roll out a new spill containment system for oil and gas drilling rig sites, according to its chief executive officer, Joe Eddy.

The recent growth of Eagle Manufacturing, which produces hundreds of hazardous materials safety products at its plant on Charles Street in Wellsburg, is just one example of how drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations can benefit the area economy not just by bringing new ventures to the area, but by providing work for established ones as well, Eddy said Tuesday during the Ohio Valley Oil and Gas Association’s Boomtown Panel 2.0 at Wheeling Park’s White Palace.

The event brought together oil and gas industry representatives, vendors and prospective vendors to network and discuss how the shale boom is impacting the region.

“We’ve added 25 employees in the last year, and a lot of that has been to support this industry,” he said.

Eddy, who worked for more than 30 years in the oilfields of Texas and elsewhere before joining Eagle Manufacturing in 1996, is confident the drilling boom is here to stay.

“We’re in a time that we’ve never seen before. … I think this is a 30-, 40-, 50-year boom,” he said. “We’re going to have ups and downs regionally, but we all have a part to play in this.”

Robert Rikeman, vice president of logistics for Rice Energy, a Canonsburg, Pa., company with offices in St. Clairsville, agrees. He said his company has leased enough mineral acres in the Utica shale to build 200 well pads.

“We’ve built three. This isn’t going anywhere. … We didn’t spend $300 million (on leasing) in Belmont County to not be here for a while,” Rikeman said.

The panelists agreed that for companies looking to break into the oil and gas industry as vendors or contractors, dependability – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – is a must. Those who are willing to do whatever it takes will be the ones who get the work, he said.

“You need to separate yourself from the competition. You need to figure out what makes you different from the next guy,” said Bob DeJaegher, vice president of energy services for Kelchner Energy Services in St. Clairsville, who also has worked on Consol’s natural gas operations. He said at one time he was receiving 100 calls per day from vendors interested in doing business.

But competition sometimes must give way to cooperation. Overbooking and being too proud to ask for help from someone who can provide the same services can be a vendor’s downfall in the industry, the panelists said.

“I’ve seen it time and time again, where companies bite off more than they can chew,” Rikeman said.

Greg Cook, CEO of Mustang Oilfield Services in St. Clairsville, moved back to the area from the South a few years ago to be closer to family. He decided to try to capitalize on the drilling boom and bought four trucks to haul water.

Today, he has a dozen water trucks and provides other transportation services to the industry. He said it’s hard work, adding he serves as his own on-call night shift supervisor. He feels like he has to scratch and claw for work sometimes, but he puts in the hours because he knows that’s what eventually is going to make him the one that drilling companies call when they have a need.

“I probably get two full nights of sleep a week because there’s always something wrong. … It can be exhausting and it can be frustrating,” he said.

The benefits can be indirect, too, Rikeman said. He said one of his company’s fracking jobs gets lunch for 60 people catered from the same place every day, all because the owner approached them and said he wanted to feed them.

“He’s making a fortune out of a little pizza shop in Uniontown,” he said.