Downstream, It’s Construction Jobs in Oil and Gas

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Those representing the building trades and energy interests say the oil and gas industry is still moving forward in the region, despite market downturns over the past decade and challenges brought on by the pandemic. 

“Overall, we’ve been extremely happy with the progress,” says Martin Loney, president of the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council. He is also the business agent for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396.

“It’s slowed down some,” he says. “But we expect it to get better with oil and gas prices going up.”

Over the past decade, plumbers and pipefitters, laborers, operating engineers and nearly all of the crafts have been involved in big oil and gas projects. Among the projects were the construction of major natural gas-fueled electrical generation plants – the Lordstown Energy Center and the South Field Energy Center in Wellsville. Other work in the region included processors and suppliers to the industry, such as Vallourec Star in Youngstown, which uses local tradesmen for maintenance during outages. 

Loney also points to huge ongoing projects such as Royal Dutch Shell’s $6 billion petrochemical plant near Monaca, Pa., as a major source for work among the building trades. The site was selected because of access to the rich deposits of natural gas liquids in the Utica and Marcellus plays. 

Other major projects throughout the region over the last 10 years include the $150 million processing plant along State Line Road in Springfield Township in Mahoning County that separates dry gas, such as methane, from wet gas – ethane, butane and propane. An even larger cryogenic plant – the Kensington plant in southern Columbiana County – was commissioned in 2013 and sends natural-gas liquids to a fractionation plant in Harrison County. 

Vallourec, a pipe and tube producer that in 2010 constructed a $1 billion seamless mill in Youngstown, manufactures pipe used in the oil and gas industry and is in need of workers. A sister operation VAM USA, opened a pipe-threading mill in the city’s Ohio Works Park to support production at Vallourec.

“We’re now getting all of our pipe casing out of Vallourec’s Youngstown operations,” says Jackie Stewart, spokesman for Houston-based Encino Acquisition Partners, which has an office in Canton. EAP acquired the remainder of Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s position in the Utica-Point Pleasant shale formation in 2018 that included more than 900,000 leasehold acres, mostly in Carroll, Harrison and Jefferson counties. 

Stewart says it takes thousands of contractors to support a half-billion dollar-drilling program across the state. And these contractors employ thousands of workers, she says. Demand is especially strong for commercial truck drivers, welders and laborers to support these developments. 

“We support about 6,000 contractors” in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, she says.“Those jobs are still necessary today.”

Indeed, EAP’s Canton office employs 150 and the company is now hiring, Stewart says. EAP is today the largest oil producer in Ohio and the second-largest producer of natural gas in the state.

While drilling programs have dried up in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, Columbiana County remains an attractive target for oil and gas companies in the Utica-Point Pleasant. 

EAP and Houston-based Hilcorp Energy Co. are the most active producers in the Columbiana County, according to data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 

Most recently, Hilcorp submitted applications for permits to deepen three wells it operates in Fairfield Township. EAP recently applied for permits to deepen four of its wells in Washington Township and to drill a new well in Hanover Township.

Moreover, the abundance of natural gas in the region has helped to drive down energy costs for residents and businesses across the state.  

According to the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, five new natural gas-powered electrical plants are now in operation, three plants are under construction, another three projects have been awarded permits, while a 12th plant is in its proposal stage. Together, these projects represent $10.2 billion in investment across the state.

Other projects over the years include five major oil and gas pipeline projects that represent $8.1 billion in investment, OOGA says. 

“It’s been a real boom for our membership and the trades for the last 11 years,” says Brian Wydick, Operating Engineers Local 66’s business representative for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. “Pipeline work, compressor stations, the ethane cracker, gas-fired power plants – even access roads with the paving industry. We’ve benefited from all of that.”