WHEELING - Estimates for the employment impact natural gas drilling has had in West Virginia range from as low as 2,244 jobs to as high as 19,956 for the year 2010, depending upon who you ask.
However, industry officials agree that drilling is leading to increased economic activity - and believe that employment opportunities in the field are growing.
Last week, WorkForce West Virginia spokeswoman Courtney Sisk said 2,244 people worked in the oil and gas industry throughout the state in 2010, a number that actually dropped to 2,179 in 2011. This, however, does not tell the whole story, according to new numbers WorkForce confirmed Monday.
By adding the employees classified in the fields of "support activities for oil and gas, oil and gas pipeline construction and pipeline transportation of natural gas," the WorkForce employment numbers for 2010 were 7,839. This number increased to 9,299 in 2011.
"I think that first number you got from WorkForce just counted the people who actually are getting the gas out of the ground," said Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Gas Association. "These numbers don't count all of the support employees."
In fact, DeMarco said the number of natural gas workers and support employees for 2010 was actually 19,956, though he did not know the precise figure for 2011.
"You also need to count all of the people who are working in restaurants, hotels, hardware stores and other places because of all the activity," he added.
Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, agreed with DeMarco in evaluating the full employment impact of the business.
"Most of the pipeliners working up there (Northern Panhandle) are union workers," he said. "The jobs are there if people are trained.
"The guys working on these rigs are transient - they have to be because they have to follow the work," said DeMarco, a point with which Burd agreed.
"Community colleges in West Virginia are training people to work on the rigs. However, those people need to understand that they may have to move around to follow the rigs all over the county," DeMarco added. "But there are also people who are native West Virginians who are now working in Texas or some place like that."
Drilling related jobs paying nearly $30 per hour are heading to Marshall County, as Dominion Resources will look to hire 40-45 full-time, permanent workers at its natural gas processing plant set to open in December. With the Dominion plant set to open this year - and several other processing plants slated to open in the next few years in West Virginia and Ohio, such at the $900 million Chesapeake complex in Harrison and Columbiana counties - West Virginia Northern Community College is looking to help train workers for these plants.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Valley Regional Oil and Gas Career Expo is slated from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the James E. Carnes Center, west of St. Clairsville. The expo is sponsored in part by the Belmont County Commission.