In Little League’s Home, Gas Drilling Is Huge
“I have been in economic development for 30 years and have never seen anything that comes close to what we are experiencing. … We estimate, to date, more than 1,500 jobs have been created and thousands more will be. ... We are looking at a generational opportunity that will be creating jobs and wealth for decades to come.”
These days, discussions at Cady’s News and the Saturday breakfast club at Don Waltman’s Meats are not limited to current events and the weather.
Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling activity is likely to be a hot topic in Williamsport, which is probably best known to many as the home of the Little League World Series.
The impact of natural gas drilling is widespread in the Williamsport area, which has been called the epicenter of Marcellus Shale activity in northcentral Pennsylvania.
The positive impacts include the arrival of new companies, job opportunities and property owners getting lease and royalty checks.
“In the past 18 to 24 months, 60 to 70 companies of varying sizes have opened in Lycoming County as a direct result of the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry,” said Vincent J. Matteo, president and CEO of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.
These companies drill wells, treat water used to fracture the shale to extract the gas, and provide sand, pipe, stone and food.
They include large familiar companies like Halliburton and Weatherford along with others well known in the natural gas industry but not in central Pennsylvania, Matteo said.
“I have been in economic development for 30 years and have never seen anything that comes close to what we are experiencing,” he said.
The opportunity for growth and job creation has not been seen since the late 1800s, when Williamsport was the lumber capital of the world, he said. Halliburton alone projects hiring up to 300.
“We estimate, to date, more than 1,500 jobs have been created and thousands more will be,” he said.
“We are still very early in this whole process of developing a new economy. We are looking at a generational opportunity that will be creating jobs and wealth for decades to come.”
Ronald Walko, president of Jersey Shore State Bank, said the bank is beginning to see people who are getting royalty checks from wells on their property, he said.
Hotels and motels report high occupancy rates on a nightly basis.
A Holiday Inn Express was opened earlier this year in downtown, a Marriott TownPlace Suites is under construction nearby and a suburban motel is being enlarged.
For the Little League World Series, which continues through next Sunday, gas workers were asked to take vacation or efforts were made to find them other accommodations so rooms would be available.
The impact of Marcellus Shale drilling is seen in many economic sectors.
“We’ve definitely seen an increased demand for singlefamily housing and rentals in general,” said Brent M. Fish, president of Fish Real Estate Inc. “We’ve seen sales activity pick up from where it was last year.”
Marcellus Shale is impacting the availability of rentals quite a bit, he said. Rates have increased, but not as dramatically as people think, he said.
Many of the apartments in the city that became available due to the Pennsylvania College of Technology opening another residence hall for 280 students are being leased to gas workers, he said.
Stu Congdon, owner of Cady’s, said he hears a common complaint from customers. The higher rents that gas workers will pay are causing problems for lowermiddle income people who are looking for an apartment, he said.
Marcellus Shale “has had a substantial impact on the entire transportation system,” according to Lycoming County Transportation Planner Mark Murwaski.
“We haven’t seen the full impact of truck traffic on the roads,” Murawski predicts. “We’re just at the tip of the iceberg.”
The state Department of Transportation is attempting to avoid a repeat of this spring when many rural roads fell apart from a combination of heavy vehicles and the annual freeze-thaw cycle.
PennDOT has asked drillers to tell them what roads they will be using this spring and have been posting those not built for heavy trucks with a 10-ton weight limit.
Chesapeake Energy plans to spend $30 million this year to repair and upgrade roads in Lycoming, Sullivan, Bradford and Tioga counties, said spokesman Brian L. Grove. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. is spending nearly $1.3 million to upgrade Route 44 north of Haneyville in the Pine Creek Valley.
Murawski pointed to the Lycoming Valley Railroad’s increased activity. In 2008, the shortline carried 80 carloads related to the Marcellus Shale. Last year, it was 1,600 carloads and it has increased to 2,600 carloads so far this year, he said.
“We need to see a major capacity expansion of the rail system to handle the shale traffic,” he said. Federal money is being sought to build six miles of rail siding, replace a deteriorating bridge and construct an access road to the Williamsport Regional Airport, he noted.
There has been a significant increase in the past two years of private aircraft, especially large private jets, because of Marcellus Shale, said David L. Frey, airport marketing director. Employment
As evidenced by the increase in cars and pickup trucks with out-of-state license plates, drilling companies have imported experienced workers from other states, Matteo said.
Job opportunities in the gas industry often go begging because applicants do not understand the work culture, said Linda Vanderpool, administrator of the CareerLink office in Williamsport.
Local residents don’t realize they likely will have to work long hours, weekends, nights and maybe out of town, she said. That could be a hardship on a young family with one vehicle, she said.
Marcellus Shale companies lean toward veterans and those with farming or forestry backgrounds who are used to hard work, she said. Truck drivers with CDL licenses are in great demand but most companies require at least two years experience, Vanderpool said.
Susan L. Bigger, superintendent of the East Lycoming School District in Hughesville, attributes 2 to 3 percent of new enrollments to gas drilling. Numerous wells are being drilled in that district.
Penn College, through its Marcellus Shale Training Center, provided non-credit training last year to 615 workers and worked with 37 companies. It projects training at least 1,500 this year.
Topics include commercial and defensive driving, welding, rough-terrain forklift and entry-level technical and job-readiness skills. Programs also have been offered to dislocated and unemployed workers looking to enter careers associated with the gas industry.
The impact on farmers has been mostly positive, said Thomas Murphy, an educator with Penn State Extension Service.
Money from gas leases has given farmers the opportunity to add or replace equipment and plan their retirement, he said.
“It likely will be easier for the younger generation to come back to the farm,” he said.
Some farmers are getting royalties from wells that have come in, he said.
The increase in truck traffic on rural roads is becoming a challenge for farmers as they move their equipment from field to field, he said.