The good news is that the booming natural gas drilling in West Virginia’s Marcellus Shale field “continues to have a positive impact on West Virginia’s economy” according to a report from the Department of Commerce’s Workforce West Virginia division. But there is concern that too few of these new jobs are being filled by West Virginia residents because for the second year in a row, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration has not provided a key statistic — mandated by the Legislature — about how many of these new jobs are going to out-of-state workers.
According to the latest figures in an article published in the Charleston Gazette early last week, the Department of Commerce’s Workforce West Virginia division reported that employment in the oil and gas industries grew by just over 20 percent in 2012. And average wages also jumped from about $70,000 to $75,6800.
But one critical piece of information was left out of that published report. There was no indication just how many of these new jobs created by the boom in Marcellus Shale drilling are going to West Virginia residents and how many are being filled by out-of-state workers.
This is the second year that the Tomblin administration has not seen fit to make this information public even though that key data about the residency of these natural gas workers was mandated by the state Legislature.
Commerce Department officials have added information about race, ethnicity and gender of natural gas industry workers but “unfortunately there are some details we are unable to provide,” according to a spokeswoman for that agency. So it’s no surprise that organized labor groups in West Virginia are complaining — with good reason to object — that companies are bringing in out-of-state workers to fill too many of the new jobs.
During a 2011 special session that focused on new environmental rules on drilling, a few members of the Legislature tried to address this work force issue. These lawmakers wanted language that would require companies to provide a breakdown of employee residency. But industry lobbyists were able to convince Tomblin to remove this language during closed-door negotiations with the chief executive.
The legislative committee bill would have required companies to disclose this information. But the governor’s version of the bill, which was the one eventually passed, instead called for a government study by the Department of Commerce.
The final version did require a review of the number of jobs created for West Virginia residents and called for an annual report on this information by Nov. 1 of each year until 2016. But so far those reports issued last year and again last month make no mention of the residency of natural gas industry workers.
Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said last year his agency has “not outside resource to gain the information from” and last month Chelsea Ruby, the spokeswoman for the Commerce Department said the only state agency that probably has the needed numbers is the Department of Revenue and “they are prohibited by law from sharing it.”
Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, said the governor assured his group information about employee residency would be disclosed. He said the Legislature clearly asked for the breakdown of in-state and out-of-state workers but that information has not been made public for “two years in a row.”
Meanwhile, a state wildlife official has warned that coyotes have become more common in urban areas of West Virginia. Curtis Taylor, the Division of Natural Resources wildlife chief, told The Associated Press last month that residents will have to learn to live with them.
Taylor said millions of dollars have been spent on coyote control in western states with little or no success. He said when residents there have started killing a lot of them, the coyotes simply increase their reproductive rate.
Charleston humane officer Thaddeous Boggess said he doesn’t get many calls about coyotes but merely hears about them. He said when he is out on routine calls, people stop him to tell him they have seen coyotes. Boggess also recommends that residents with pets such as dogs or cats should keep them inside at night or “you are asking for trouble” from any coyote in the area.
One Charleston resident who cares for a colony of feral cats in her neighborhood said two of the cats have been killed in recent weeks and she suspects coyotes are to blame because neighbors have seen coyotes on their property when their pets have gone missing.