Utica Shale: Boon or boondoggle? Experts, studies widely disagree

By Karl Henkel


Mining the Utica Shale could create more than 200,000 jobs and stimulate the economy with billions of dollars in Ohio, a recent study said.

If that estimate comes to fruition, it could singlehandedly cut Ohio’s unemployment from 9.1 percent, the rate for August, to 5.7 percent.

But is 200,000 a loaded number?

“It’s absolutely real,” said Andrew Blocksom, president of Patriot Wastewater Treatment in Warren. He said his company, once it expands to expected capacity, could employ 1,500 in the region.

Other experts say that based on facts gathered about Utica Shale’s sedimentary-rock brother, the Marcellus Shale, that 200,000 may be a long shot. In fact, they believe Ohio may never see the predicted job gains.

Pennsylvania claims it added nearly 50,000 jobs related to the Marceullus Shale between late 2007 and 2010.

But according to recent research from The Keystone Research Center, a Pennsylvania nonprofit and nonpartisan group, the state added a net of 5,669 jobs during that period. The industry added about 10 percent of all new jobs in the state last year.

Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of Keystone, said that media misrepresentation has led to a false hope when it comes to shale-related jobs.

“Our experience in Pennsylvania has been that there’s a lot of cheerleading going on and not a lot of analysis,” he told The Vindicator.

The cheerleading, he said, came about because of a statistic known as new hires, a stat that only takes into account workers hired, but not how many are laid off.

Herzenberg likened it to a person only looking at the deposits in their bank account and neglecting to recognize any of the withdrawals.

“New hires is not a good indicator of whether or not an industry is creating new jobs,” he said.

Local businesses, however, say that though Utica Shale jobs are still in the infancy stages, and they are starting to prepare for big employment gains.

De-Cal, Inc., the Warren, Mich.-based mechanical-contracting company that recently opened in Youngstown, is adding additional skill training.

Michael Montgomery, regional manager, said he’s focusing on downhillers, or skilled workers who weld pipelines. If a potential employee doesn’t have that skill, Montgomery said he’ll train them for no other reason than the anticipation of employment growth.

De-Cal isn’t alone in trying to get ahead of a potential job boon.

Bert Cene, executive director at the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association, said his organization has worked the last six months to prepare for a new wave of jobs.

“A lot of these are going to be blue- collar jobs,” he said. “These are really going to be a boon for our economy.”

Cene believes the work force already has some of the basic skills necessary for shale-related work, but some enhanced training will likely be necessary.

Those jobs could net salaries of near $50,000 for hands-on jobs, though 14-hour work days may be necessary, Cene said.

Three weeks was just about the time it took Luciano Vennitti, 32, a shift manager at Patriot, to learn the ropes.

But Vennitti jumped right into a job testing pH and radioactivity levels in wastewater. Not bad for a guy who had worked at his family food business before his career switch.

In fact, Patriot’s staff of 15 consists of a former chef, chemist, tree service and roofer, just to name a few.

“We want someone positive with a willingness to learn,” said Jeff Faloba, Patriot Water operations manager, “more than someone with a degree and a bad attitude.”

Blocksom said Patriot’s staff could increase to as many as 75, excluding a possible investment project near the plant’s home on Sferra Drive that could bring an additional 200 jobs.

Blocksom already receives about a dozen r sum s each week.

But he’s at a hiring freeze, however, because the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency have implemented a restriction on the city of Warren that could shut the business down some time next year.

It’s one of the many speed bumps that Ohio could face along the way to its 200,000 job projection.

“All it takes is one pen across a piece of paper, and this thing can take off,” Blocksom said.

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