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Energy’s Latest Target: Women

By Alan Neuhauser

After two decades changing diapers, nanny Shelly Alexander was ready for a change herself.

“I wanted a job I could use my brain for,” says Alexander, who lives in Spring Valley in northeast Pennsylvania. “I had a great job, but I had no retirement, I had no benefits. It was just time.”

She tried working for a local gym. She made meal plans for friends, flirting with the idea of becoming a dietitian. But at age 40, four years of college to get the degree she’d need for that job held little appeal. Plus, in the past decade, a far more lucrative opportunity had moved into the area: hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking and horizontal drilling have unleashed an energy extravaganza in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic. American and international energy companies are churning out billions of barrels of oil and gas and attracting thousands of workers eager for entry-level paychecks of $50,000 to $60,000. In fact, in boom states like North Dakota, demand for workers is outstripping supply, as jobs remain unfilled for lack of qualified workers.

“We need more women, more workers,” says Randy Pacheco, dean of the San Juan College School of Energy in New Mexico. “The energy companies want to hire them. Whether it’s Chevron or BP or Conoco, they’re looking for them. They’re just looking for responsible, hardworking people.”

Regional colleges in boom towns from Pennsylvania to New Mexico have launched one-year certificate and two-year associate programs to train workers – with students’ educations often underwritten by the very energy companies that hope to hire them.

“A lot of the companies are struggling to field a workforce,” says Rick Marquardt, executive director of Lackawanna College’s School of Petroleum and Natural Gas, which opened in Dimock, Pennsylvania, the heart of the country’s fracking boom. “We get calls for interviews from [energy] companies in Pittsburgh, Houston.”

The reason, he says: “When our students come out, they’re ready to work.”

That sounded just fine to Alexander, who heard about the program through a friend last year. Within months, she’d bought herself steel-toed boots, a pink hard hat, and begun driving 90 minutes, each way, to Lackawanna’s campus three times a week to earn an associate’s degree in Petroleum and Natural Gas Measurement, one of four programs offered by the School of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

“I’m going to do something men do, and I’m going to do it better,” she says. “That’s what I’ve done my whole life.”

Alexander is one of 18 women enrolled at the School of Petroleum and Natural Gas, and the only woman enrolled in her particular program. All told, women make up 14 percent of the 129 students at the school. About 12 percent of the student body are minorities, mostly Latinos and Southeast Asians.

For $12,800 in tuition a year, they’ll spend two years immersed in the theories and science of oil and gas drilling, gaining the skills they need to work at fracking and drilling sites as well tenders, compression engineers, mud trackers and more. The goal is to produce workers, not analysts: Just about every student lands a summer internship at a fracking or drill site, and the job placement rate upon graduation is about 90 percent.

“It’s all science: physics, math computers,” Marquedt says. “We fill that gap between all the vo-tech schools and the four-year programs. We’re not interested in teaching them how to derive an equation.”

What they are interested in, though, is attracting more women to the program.

Geared toward an industry where the dorms are known as man-camps, and where the signing bonuses or other perks can include new pickup trucks – where most of the jobs, in other words, are overwhelmingly held by men – it’s a daunting challenge. A March 2014 study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing the oil and natural gas industry, found that women make up 19 percent of the workers in the oil and gas and petrochemical sectors. Women account for nearly half the country’s workforce overall.

On drilling rigs, production wells and fracking sites, that share sinks to about 15 percent, and the number is actually expected to keep falling.

Yet, says Lackawanna College president Mark Volk says, “This is a field that is open to women. We need to ensure they know there are opportunities for men and women.”

While the number of white-collar jobs for women in the industry is expected to rise through 2013, the study found, “The already-low shares of women in the semi-skilled and unskilled blue-collar occupational groups are projected to decline further,” according to the study, conducted by the consulting firm IHS Global.

For one, the chemicals used at fracking sites are hazardous to pregnant women, a 2013 report found, with the potential to cause congenital heart defects in their infants. The overwhelming number of men at the work sites and in the towns surrounding them raises the risk of on-the-job harassment and sexual assault. Police in the fracking boomtown of Willison, North Dakota, for example, have reported a marked rise in sexual assaults.

As far as the work itself, major oil and gas companies typically require their workers to have some amount of experience before they’re hired, industry insiders and school administrators say. That means most workers start at smaller, independent contractors, where back-breaking grunt work is often the order of the day, 12 hours at a time.

“With a contract company, there’s a lot of physical labor that’s required,” explains San Juan College’s Pacheco. “So it’s difficult for women to obtain that experience with the contractors and move on.”

As Irene Lewis Motts, communications director of Stark State’s Oil and Gas School in Ohio, explains, “They’re difficult jobs. Not that women can’t do it, but there’s certainly a lot of men that can’t do it, too.”

That has not deterred Sultana Holcomb, who, as a college senior studying petroleum engineering at Montana Tech, spent last summer both in offices and out in the field in an internship with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation in Houston.

“Being a woman in the oil and gas industry, you definitely stand out,” Holcomb says. “It’s not like you’re out there in the field in a dress and high heels, but you do get attention.”

But, she adds, “I enjoy it, because I know I’m doing something right. I’m part of this new generation force that’s tearing down the stereotypes.”

Women like Holcomb are, as she describes, “making way for more women to come into the industry.” And as the IHS study points out, there remains “significant potential for female blue collar employment.” The key to fulfilling it, it says, is training.

That’s where the schools come in. Like military service academies, oil and gas programs like the ones at Lackawanna and San Juan give students enough knowledge to jump a rank, skipping low-status grunt work or intensive training to go straight to better paying and less-labor-intensive jobs with Chevron, Cabot, Halliburton and other major companies at fracking and drill sites.

It’s one of the reasons why helping launch a school to exclusively train an industry workforce can be a savvy financial investment for oil and gas companies. Not only does Cabot’s $2.5 million endowment of Lackawanna, for example, make for good PR, but the job training is funded in part by student-paid tuition.

Schools can also function as de facto recruitment agencies, too, helping attract the female and minority workers that the companies say they’re seeking. Lackawanna, for example, launched a support, advisory and networking group for its female students and alumni.

“We’re bringing together women in the industry at different levels,” says school project coordinator Betty Seelendbrandt, who launched and advises the group.

The discussion, she says, focuses less on issues one might expect from male-dominated drill sites and company towns, like sexual harassment or the danger of assault, than on other concerns: “The trepidation I think for most women is very commonplace, and that of fear of math and science,” Seelendbrandt says.

Latha Ramchand, dean of the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, offers a similar view.

“There are biases built in from an early age: ‘I can’t do math, I can’t do engineering.’ We just need to get over that mindset,” she says. Oil and gas programs, particularly ones that recruit women, help accomplish that.

During a recent visit to a fracking site, “we did’t see too many women where they were fracking,” Ramchand says. But, she adds, “If we have these dialogues – why don’t we have more women in these professions – if we have women at the table, men at the table, female role models we might change that.”

Holcomb, the Montana Tech student, agrees. Both men and women, she says, need to “realize the world is changing, and realize more and more women are working in the engineering workforce.”

Women entering the industry, she adds, should “have fun with it, too. It’s exciting when you’re breaking ground, when you’re doing something new not too many females have experienced.”

To see more articles like this please visit Transfac.com

Article Source: Neuhauser, A. (2014). Energy’s latest target: women. US News & World Report. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/special-reports/energy-of-tomorrow/articles/2014/12/01/oil-and-gas-industrys-latest-target-women

 

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U.S. Drillers Shift Oil Rigs to Tap Most Reliable Fields

By Lynn Doan

U.S. oil drillers put rigs back to work this week, lifting the number in operation from a three-month low in a push to home in on their most profitable fields after crude prices sank to the lowest since 2010.

Rigs targeting oil jumped by 10 to 1,578 after sliding to the lowest level since August last week, Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI) said on its website today. Those drilling for natural gas declined by six, the Houston-based field services company’s website. While oil rigs fell in Texas’s Eagle Ford formation and the Cana Woodford of Oklahoma, they picked up in the Utica in the eastern U.S. and the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico.

“The Permian is a tried and tested formula,” Matthew Jurecky, head of oil and gas research for the London-based research company GlobalData Ltd., said by telephone from New York. “The stuff that’d be more at risk is in the periphery, the immature plays. In the Permian, you’ve still got tons of acreage that you can drill for days and make money at $30 oil.”

The oil-rig count has fallen from a peak of 1,609 on Oct. 10 as companies slow drilling in response to a 26 percent slide in crude prices over the past four months. Hess Corp. (HES), one of the largest operators in North Dakota’s prolific Bakken shale formation, said this week that it plans to idle three rigs next year. The slump threatens to curb a production boom in U.S. shale fields that has helped bring gasoline prices at the pump below $3 a gallon for the first time since 2010 and shrink the nation’s dependence on imports.

Down 30

Declines aren’t “going to be consistent every week,” James Williams, president of energy consulting company WTRG Economics, said today by telephone from London, Arkansas. “We’re still down 30 rigs. I still think we’re going to be near 1,500 by the end of the year.”

U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for December delivery rose $1.61 to settle at $75.82 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices are down 19 percent in the past year and capped the longest run of weekly declines in almost three decades.

This week Hess joined the growing pool of drillers, including Apache Corp. (APA) and Continental Resources Inc. (CLR), who’ve said they plan to run fewer rigs in some oil plays. The New York-based company will cut its count to 14 next year “in direct response to the lower oil prices,” Geurt Schoonman, vice present of the New York-based company’s Bakken division, told investors in a conference call Nov. 10.

Domestic Output

Domestic oil output climbed 92,000 barrels a day in the week ended Nov. 7 to 9.06 million, Energy Information Administration data show. While rigs have dropped, their productivity has surged to record levels across all major oil fields, the agency said in a report Nov. 10. New crude output per rig will rise to a record 543 barrels a day in the Bakken in December and to 550 in the Eagle Ford, the report shows.

Rigs in North Dakota may fall below 180, down from 191 last month, as oil and gas operators stop renewing contracts on their least-efficient equipment, Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Mineral Resources Department, said in a conference call today.

Murphy Oil Corp. (MUR), an El Dorado, Arkansas-based oil and gas producer, said in a presentation today that the Eagle Ford is the most expensive of its major oil plays. Supply costs totaled $43.40 a barrel in the South Texas field in September, compared with $29.48 in Canadian offshore operations, the report shows.

U.S. gas stockpiles increased 40 billion cubic feet last week to 3.611 trillion, according to the EIA. Supplies were 6.2 percent below the five-year average and 5.7 percent under year-earlier inventories.

Natural gas for December delivery gained 4.3 cents to $4.02 per million British thermal units on the Nymex, up 12 percent in the past year.

To see more articles like this please visit Transfac.com

Article Source: Doan, L. (2014). U.S. drillers shift oil rigs to tap most reliable fields. Bloomberg. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-14/u-s-drillers-shift-oil-rigs-to-tap-most-reliable-fields.html

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Oil field deaths rose sharply from 2008 to 2012

By Lise Olsen

Oil field deaths reached 545 during America’s drilling and fracking frenzy from 2008 to 2012, with Texas’ 216 reported fatalities leading the nation. Pennsylvania and North Dakota also are recording dramatic increases in worker deaths, according to updated workplace fatality figures released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The data, released in response to a Houston Chronicle request, comes as government officials and industry leaders are deadlocked in an ongoing debate about how to plug holes in nationwide safety rules for the industry. Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration formally asked for public comments on how to expand regulations of potentially hazardous workplaces, including drill and well sites, following the disastrous explosion at a fertilizer plant in West.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board and other safety advocates recommended applying tougher process safety rules to save lives at drilling sites. The federal government already enforces those rules at refineries and chemical plants. Offshore, drilling and well-supply companies already follow similarly strict rules, too. But industry advocates have for decades opposed them at on-land drilling sites.

Son’s death

Dennis Bolt, a longtime oil field worker, lost his son Jason in 2011 when decades-old drilling equipment bought used at a Permian Basin-area auction flew apart and killed the younger Bolt and a co-worker at a drill site near Lamesa.

“My son’s death has opened my eyes to the fact that this ‘recklessness’ is no longer acceptable by me as well as many others,” Bolt said. “Lives are being lost at an alarming rate.”

The 545 oil field deaths nationally from 2008-2012 represented a 3.2 percent increase over fatalities recorded in the five years prior to 2008, with Texas’ total deaths up 7.4 percent.

Among the other states recording increased fatalities during the boom, North Dakota reported a more than 340 percent increase to 31 fatalities and Pennsylvania saw a 300 percent increase to 20 deaths. Oklahoma saw 68 deaths, up 24 percent.

Three states recorded decreases, with Wyoming down 45 percent to 22, New Mexico down 36 percent to 21 and Louisiana down 2 percent to 60.

Wyoming’s plunge is noteworthy because the state is the only of the eight energy producers to have engaged in a sustained state-sponsored effort to reduce workplace deaths.

After a 2008 report identified it as having nation’s worst occupational fatality rate, Wyoming leaders hired five new state-funded OSHA inspectors, employed a full-time occupational epidemiologist to collect and study workplace deaths, passed related reforms and established statewide safety groups that makes recommendations, according to documents and an interview with current state occupational epidemiologist Mack Sewell.

Wyoming’s 22 deaths from 2008-2012 were about half the 40 deaths the state recorded in drilling, well service and petroleum extraction from 2003-2007.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance, one of the state’s new safety advisory groups, now has “over 1,000 members and numerous collaborating organizations,” according to Jack Bedessem, its president.

“For the last three years our efforts have been focused on enhancing the safety culture in all facets of the industry,” said Bed-essem, who is also CEO of Wyoming-based Trihydro Corp. “We still have a lot of work to do to ensure every one of our employees gets home healthy and safe every night.”

Better solutions sought

With government safety regulators and industry officials deadlocked over new safety procedures for oil drilling and fracking sites, Dr. M. Sam Mannan, director of the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M University, has argued that a preliminary analysis of 2012 industry accident data suggests that only a fraction of U.S. oil field fatalities might be prevented by expanding process safety rules.

Specific workplace programs and training, however, possibly could have saved the lives of about two dozen workers killed in fires, poisoned by gasses or electrocuted in 2012 alone, the center’s preliminary data shows.

Bolt, the Texas oil field worker who lost his son, believes that improving OSHA’s federal inspections simply isn’t enough, especially since many drilling and well sites are isolated, the agency is understaffed and its safety rules are out-of-date.

Going to Legislature

Jason Bolt and his co-worker, Sandy Daves, friends and fathers in their 20s, perished at a Robinson Drilling work site in the Permian Basin, at a location that government safety inspectors took hours to reach, public records show. Those were two of five fatalities reported by Robinson in the last five years.

Dennis Bolt insists that Texans should be able to tap their own know-how to address persistent dangers in the oil patch and says he plans to ask the Legislature to address issues in the 2015 session. Bolt would like to see leaders tackle many tough problems like drug and alcohol use on worksites and the reuse of old and obsolete oil field equipment. He also wants to see them consider requiring law enforcement officers to routinely secure fatal accident sites to help preserve evidence and prevent cover-ups.

Wrongful death lawsuits filed in Harris County on behalf of Bolt and Daves have been settled. While the terms of the settlement prohibit Dennis Bolt from discussing the accident, he’s not done talking about the need for reforms.

“I want these Robinson deaths to not be in vain,” Bolt said. “The oil field must change.”

Article Source: Olsen, L. (2014). Oil field deaths rose sharply from 2008 to 2012. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Oil-field-deaths-rose-sharply-from-2008-to-2012-5433943.php

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Elk herd thriving in drilling boom

Bull elk

By COLIN DEPPEN

Nearly seven years into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale drilling boom, wildlife officials say the state’s elk population continues to flourish despite concerns about industrial footprints, wildlife displacement and habitat degradation.

“It hasn’t disturbed any habitat, in fact, it probably creates more than there was to begin with,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission elk biologist Jeremy Banfield, referencing companies who cover defunct wellpads with grass, prime elk habitat.

The elk population has nearly doubled since 2008, when the state’s Marcellus Shale drilling boom began, rising from 500 to more than 880 and increasing every year. The number is expected to reach 1,000 in 2015.

But there exists a lack of data indicating how natural gas activity has displaced the animals, and to what extent.

The question is increasingly relevant as Elk, McKean and Cameron counties — the heart of the elk range — undergoes a natural gas awakening led, in part, by Houston-based Seneca Resources Corp., complete with planned wellpads and pipelines.

As the infrastructure comes online, disturbances are unavoidable.

Construction and initial phases of production often entail loud machinery, round-the-clock lighting, and high volumes of truck traffic.

But Banfield said, “Once the machinery is in place, the elk adapt quickly … It doesn’t seem to bother them.”

Afterwards, if well sites are restored Banfield said habitat is improved, calling the drilling process in some cases a short-term harm resulting in long-term gains.

But a University of Vermont study found only six percent of wells undergo restoration, with companies not required to complete full restoration until drilling is done and many waiting on the chance that additional wells may be drilled or an existing well re-fracked to improve gas production.

The study’s authors say in most cases final restoration may be 40 or 50 years away or as long as there is an active well on the pad, meaning a direct and generational loss of habitat for wildlife.

In Elk County, home to the densest pockets of elk herd members, Seneca spokesperson Rob Boulware said the company is committed to wellsite restoration, adding, “We are work(ing) with surface owners such as the PGC, DCNR and Forest Service to restore surface lands in a manner that best meets their needs.”

Boulware said the company consults with preservation groups to purchase or plant seed mixes that help Ruffed Grouse and wild turkey populations.

He said “shale gas companies have helped to greatly expand” the fundraising efforts of Keystone Elk Country Alliance, a Benezette-based conservation group focused on the local elk population.

Seneca, Boulware said, remains committed to “limit(ing) impacts and improv(ing) surface areas after drilling there and elsewhere.”

Much of the drilling locally will take place on state game lands where the elk have existed for more than a hundred years, part of a Game Commission project to reintroduce them locally after the animals were hunted to extinction in Pennsylvania.

Approximately 1.5 million acres of the 2.2 million-acre state forest system sit over Marcellus and other shale gas formations, according to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the agency had already leased 139,000 acres of forest for drilling by 2010.

A DCNR monitoring report released this year found that if nearly 1,500 acres of forest had been converted into wellpads, roads and pipelines for shale gas development, changing the wild character of 9,300 acres of state forest.

After being focused mostly in the eastern part of the state, that activity is moving westward, toward the elk range as companies like Seneca, drawn by lower overhead and rapidly developing pipeline infrastructure.

State Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint, said “significant natural gas activity” is taking place in the Clermont area of McKean County as well as Cameron and Potter counties and believes the elk in the area are adequately protected.

“I don’t think there’s been any impact on the elk herd. It has grown significantly and much of the work done by natural gas companies has provided habitat for elk and deer,” Causer said, pointing to the same restoration efforts referenced by game commission and gas companies alike.

“In fact, you could argue it has been beneficial,” Causer added.

While the elk range comprises a portion of Causer’s district, it comprises a key swath of state Rep. Matt Gabler, R-DuBois’, 75th Legislative District.

In Harrisburg, Gabler has lobbied extensively for measures to accentuate the elk herd as a local economic and tourism linchpin.

“It’s a unique identifier for our area,” Gabler said. “When I talk to folks across Pennsylvania, people know we’re the home of the elk herd and home of PA Wilds. It’s part of the core identify of our culture as an outdoor paradise and in part, our heritage.”

Gabler said the possibility of an uptick in natural gas activity driving the herd away from designated viewing areas, and a dependent tourism industry in Benezette, is at this point only a possibility and said local tourism and conservation groups have raised no concerns to him about the prospect.

But Gabler will continue to gauge the issue, vowing to “stay in touch with groups in the best position to know that and raise alarm if that’s the case.”

“But, at this point (natural gas) development, how we regulate it, and how it has advanced has not generated any negative feedback from stakeholders and conservation partners.”

So far, Gabler said natural gas activity has actually been beneficial to management of the animals and minimizing unwanted elk encounters with humans. The hope is that creation of ideal habitat at remote, shuttered drill sites may help to draw the animals away from residential areas, thereby limiting their involvement in traffic accidents and property damage.

“A mature forest is poor habitat,” Gabler said. “It’s early succession growth and rotational food plots that provide enhancements to habitat.”

Elk County Commissioner Dan Freeburg said “besides property owner and traffic inconveniences and occasional traffic hazards … the elk herd popularity has decidedly had a positive impact on the economy, reaching out from the core area into St. Marys, DuBois and all around.”

Freeburg said the gas industry, too, has benefited municipalities through Act 13 impact fee payments and local economies through trickle down economics.

Those impacts are expected to increase within the elk range in the coming months and years as companies begin aggressively investing here.

As that investment continues and heightens, those like Banfield and Gabler will be paying close attention.

Banfield said studying the impact will require costly tracking equipment to record the animals’ movements and long-term migrations which the Game Commission currently lacks.

But for now he says, “There’s not a lack of space now and there’s plenty of grass.”

Article Source: Deppen, C. (2014.) Elk herd thriving in drilling boom. The Bradford Era. Retrieved from http://www.bradfordera.com/news/article_8495b26c-4f5f-11e4-a2b4-8fcfbee1861b.html

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