Appalachian Basin Unions Are Winning Big Thanks to Shale
Unions across the Appalachian Basin are experiencing increased employment and other benefits thanks to the multitude of shale-related projects in the region, such as pipelines, natural gas power plants and the Shell ethane cracker under construction in Pennsylvania. As Steamfitters Union 449’s business manager Ken Broadbent told State Impact this week,
“’I’m almost going to double the amount of people when it peaks working out of my union. That is good for our education fund. That’s good for our health coverage. It helps us stay in business,’ Broadbent said.” (emphasis added)
State Impact also reported that “thanks in large part to the oil and gas business,” Steamfitter 449 laborers will be working on natural gas processing plants, power plants, and Shell’s multi-billion dollar ethane cracker in Beaver County, which will employ 1,500 steamfitters at peak construction.
The influx of work has been so significant that it has allowed the Steamfitters to build an $18.5 million training facility in Butler County, Pa. Pittsburgh’s Operating Engineers Local 66’s business manager Jim Kunz told StateImpact that “the natural gas industry helped his union grow from 6,700 in 2010 to 7,400 today.” That echoes what Kunz told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2016:
“Half a dozen years ago, Mr. Kunz said his union was nearing 10 percent unemployment. A year later, when the shale industry started to take off, employment ramped up to 100 percent. In fact, Mr. Kunz said, the local had to recruit operators from other areas to fill the need.
“And while he’s seen a dip in jobs in the past year that parallels the oil and gas downturn, he expects to be back up to full employment next year.
“’It’s all driven by this industry,’ he said.” (emphasis added)
And it’s not just in Pennsylvania. The Ohio Laborers District Council reported in 2017 that it surpassed 2016 expectations by more than a million work hours and totaled 4.2 million work hours over a 16-month period from January 2016 to April 2017. Ohio Laborers Training Center executive director Robert Chatterson explained,
“The distribution work in gas pipelines is a 25-year project. Conceivably a young person can go into distribution work and work their whole career and retire with a great pension.”
These opportunities are not limited to just unions, either. As Ohio Laborers District Council Pipeline Specialist Ray Hipsher has said,
“The shale industry is hiring local workforce. That’s going to keep the money in the community and the laborers doing the work are going to take pride and care of the quality of their work, because we are your neighbors. We care about doing this pipeline work right and environmentally sound.”
Hipsher’s 2017 comments were echoed by Kunz this week when he explained to StateImpact,
“We don’t see this industry as the deathknell of the environment as some do…”
As Chatterson noted, these opportunities have barely begun for unions and Appalachian Basin residents. A recent IHS Markit report found that the Appalachian Basin is the most profitable place in the United States to build new petrochemical facilities, and the governors of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have all agreed to continue collaborating to ensure there abundant shale development continues to be able to support these types of projects.
It’s a great time to be in Appalachia!