Shale Gas Booming With Opportunity
When Ben Whitaker graduated from Valley View High School three years ago, he wasn’t quite sure about his future.
But he knew he wanted to be outdoors.
Today as a lead well tender for Cabot Oil & Gas, he likes the opportunities placed before him.
A graduate of a two-year program in Lackawanna College’s School of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Whitaker is happy to put what he learned in the classroom to good use in the gas fields of Susquehanna County.
“They gave me a good overview of compression technology,” Whitaker says of the PNG program. “And now I’m seeing clearly how it all fits together.”
His quick advancement from technician to well tender to lead well tender and foreman also reveals the trust Cabot has placed in Whitaker.
The PNG program in New Milford has attempted to respond to the industry’s need for a trained workforce in all sectors of the petroleum and natural gas industry. These include not only drilling and completion of wells but also moving petroleum and natural gas to distributors for delivery to customers.
It is the latter where Whitaker harnessed his training.
On a recent Monday afternoon, Whitaker was at Cabot’s Flowers well pad in Springville Twp. monitoring completed wells.
Three years ago, Flowers was among the most prolific gas wells not just for Cabot, but in all of Pennsylvania.
Whitaker has the responsibility to oversee eight to 10 Cabot locations, inspecting 30 to 35 wells to make sure they are functioning properly, adjusting pressure gauges and valves, and addressing safety matters to ensure optimal production levels are achieved.
Jannine McKnight, PNG program director for Lackawanna College, speaks highly of Whitaker’s quick advancement and notes that it’s not an isolated situation.
“Right now, there’s more demand for our students than we can possibly fill,” McKnight said. She expects all of her May graduates to have good-paying jobs within days or weeks of leaving the classroom, if they don’t have them already.
She notes that graduates can expect to start at $40,000 to $60,000 per year in their respective fields.
“It’s quite a gem of an opportunity to have a company with benefits and a 401(k) program early on as well as a company truck to drive,” she said.
“With boots on the ground, technicians are the backbone of our society,” McKnight said. “And the companies really value those who put their skill sets to good use.”
Cabot’s Bill desRosiers said the Flowers wells that Whitaker monitors continue to produce at a solid pace.
Cabot’s footprint is only in Susquehanna County, where it continues to keep three rigs and two completion crews busy, he said.
DesRosiers smiles at the fact that Cabot is among the five largest shale gas operators in Pennsylvania.
He has been with the company for only seven years. “I still can’t believe where we came from and where we are today,” he said.
In Wyoming County, major players continue to be Chesapeake and Southwestern, along with BKV, which in 2017 acquired the assets of Warren Resources, which previously had acquired Carrizzo and Citrus.
On Jan. 14, BKV broke ground for a $5 million office and warehouse facility in Tunkhannock Twp. at the top of Mile Hill.
During the groundbreaking, company officials acknowledged they had spent more than $500 million acquiring Marcellus Shale assets locally and were ready to spend another $300 million this year to buy more.
“We’re excited to be planting our roots in the community and establish a base in the northeast Marcellus for years to come,” said Matt Johnson, vice president of corporate development for BKV.
Tunkhannock Mayor Norm Ball, who was at the groundbreaking, said the news had local folks excited, too, especially about the spinoff opportunities that level of investment typically bring to a community.
Williams, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based pipeline company, opened an $8 million regional headquarters north of Tunkhannock in 2014 and continues to keep an eye on its lines that carry gas from wells to market.
Although its highly publicized Atlantic Sunrise Project was completed last year, Williams continues to look for technicians who might be a good fit with the company.
When she visits local high school career fairs, Tammy Bonnice of Williams’ Tunkhannock office said students often ask her if Williams provides extra training to new hires.
She explained that new pipeline workers typically attend a six-week boot camp before they are allowed to go out into the field. Williams provides training and retraining classes on a regular basis.
The kinds of jobs available with Williams pretty much mirror what the shale gas industry is looking for industrywide once a well is drilled and completed.
“Just like you’d expect with any large company, we have many different job categories with a variety of experience levels,” Williams spokesman Christopher Stockton said, noting his company employs about 700 people in Pennsylvania.
The positions include operations technicians, engineers, environmental scientists, safety specialists, trainers, project managers, GIS designers, accountants, construction managers and many more.
Stockton said a good example of an entry-level position in Pennsylvania is the operations technician internship, whose qualifications are spelled out on the Williams website.
Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center Director Alice Davis said there is such a high demand for water truck haulers that her school is exploring the possibility of starting a commercial driver training program.
“The opportunities out there are virtually limitless,” Lackawanna College’s McKnight said. “We want our graduates and companies we serve to work together to make things happen.”
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