CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An upswing in drilling activity in the Marcellus Shale gas field was reflected in a 20 percent jump in statewide oil and gas industry employment last year, a report from the Workforce West Virginia Investment Council shows.From 2011 to 2012, oil and gas employment increased by 2,123 jobs, to total employment of 12,666, the report Wednesday to the legislative Joint Committee on Government and Finance states.During the period, the average wage for oil and gas industry workers increased by nearly $5,500, to an annual average wage of $75,580 in 2012.Average annual wages range from $110,355 for petroleum engineers to $27,464 for oil and gas rig roustabouts.Employment in sectors supporting the oil and gas industry also grew in 2012, particularly in the oil and gas pipeline and storage tank construction sector. Employment in that sector grew 105 percent, from 2,021 jobs in 2011 to 3,941 in 2012. Average annual wages increased 13 percent, to $81,250.Most of the oil and gas employment growth is in the Northern Panhandle and north-central West Virginia, where the bulk of the Marcellus Shale activity is occurring, the report notes.Earlier Wednesday, Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow said severance tax collections for the first three months of the 2013-14 fiscal year are up 53 percent compared to the same period in 2012.He said the $36 million increase, from $67.5 million to $103.5 million, is primarily attributable to a 200 percent increase in natural gas severance tax collections.Joint Committee members received the report Wednesday, but did not discuss it.
Also Wednesday, Workforce West Virginia acting executive director Russell Fry told the committee that the state Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund should finish 2013 with a balance of $97.6 million, down about $9.5 million from December 2012.Fry said the trust fund is not at risk, with a drop in state unemployment from 7.3 percent in 2012 to 6.2 percent last month."This year started out bad, and it slowly started to pick back up," he said.The fund is well above its December 2010 level of $76 million, he said."We're worse than we were a year ago, but better than we were two years ago," Fry noted.Fry said West Virginia remains in a much better position than most states, which exhausted their unemployment compensation funds during the recession, and had to borrow money from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits.
"We're still one of the very few states in the country that didn't have to borrow money," he said."The Macy's representatives said that was one of the major reasons they came to West Virginia," Fry added, referring to the retailer's 1.3 million-square-foot distribution center, which opened in Martinsburg last year.Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org