The discovery by Mitchell Energy in the 1990s of a way to make hydraulic fracturing feasible has opened reserves of oil and natural gas for drilling throughout the United States and the world.
In West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, companies have just begun to tap into the unbelievably large reserve of natural gas in the Marcellus shale formation.
The task before the people of Appalachia is converting this energy into jobs. While much attention has been focused at the big picture of a cracker or two reviving the chemical industry along the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, labor unions, community colleges and drilling companies have focused on hiring local people to build pipelines and drill the wells.
Five years ago, unions complained about the jobs going to out-of-state workers, mainly from Texas. But drilling companies had little choice as the local labor market lacked people who had the skills needed to do the job quickly and safely.
But by working with the industry and community colleges, the labor unions have made inroads in getting jobs for local people.
“The shale became a lifesaver and a lifeline for a lot of working families,” Dennis Martire told the Associated Press. Martire is the mid-Atlantic regional manager for the Laborers’ International Union, which represents workers in numerous construction trades.
In 2008, union members worked a total of 400,000 hours on Marcellus-related jobs. That number grew more than 14-fold to 5.7 million hours just four years later in 2012.
Unions are not the only beneficiaries of this work. The AP cited Alex Paris, head of a Pittsburgh-area contracting firm founded by his grandfather in 1928.
“It has created more work for our business. There’s jobs here for the first time in many, many years. Legitimate, good-paying jobs,” Paris told the news service.
Instead of acrimony, the sides got together and solved the problem. The end result is a better life for everyone.
Perhaps the people in Washington should visit Pittsburgh or elsewhere in Appalachia and see how adults work through their differences.