Colleges train natural gas drillers

Job seekers lined up at a natural gas job fair at Broome Community College in Binghamton, New York, even though New York hasn’t yet lifted its ban on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas.

Even ahead of the 3 p.m. start at Broome Community College, job seekers and exhibitors gathered outside the doors. Business reps ranged from titans of the oil and gas industry to scientists, wetland specialists and experts on construction site erosion control. More than 700 people turned out for leads on a job.

The college is in the sweet spot of the Marcellus Shale region, a gas-rich formation that underlies parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

“I’m optimistic in saying the industry will be working in New York state fairly soon,” said Broome County legislator Steve Herz, an event organizer.

Twenty miles away in Pennsylvania, thousands of natural gas wells have been drilled in the last five years.

Five community colleges in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York make up the ShaleNET coalition, which is funded by a three-year, $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Janet Hertzog of Broome Community College in Binghamton said the school is ready to start a three-week, intensive program to certify roustabouts, or general laborers on a drilling rig. “It’s tough work but it pays well, for someone willing to work 14-hour days for three-week stretches.”

The median salary for a roustabout is $38,000 and overtime can push it higher.