Texas shale plays create significant job opportunities

By Kim Morgan
Jobs Correspondent

Thanks to modern technology, it’s feasible and economical to retrieve natural gas from shale formations, which means many oil/gas companies have staked their claims in Texas, and in the process, generated employment far from offshore and closer to home.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States is a hotbed of activity for natural gas resources – enough, in fact, for an estimated 110 years of use. Shale gas is a portion of that, with Texas plays in Barnett in the north-central region, Haynesville/Bossier to the east and Eagle Ford to the south.

“It’s only been recently that technology exists to get the gas out of the ground cheaply,” said Richard Meserole, vice president and general manager at Fluor in Sugar Land.

“Combine that with an abundance of natural gas, and you get an idea of what’s really driving the market. And since the cost of the investment to get the gas is not as significant as it is off shore, that translates to the potential for thousands of jobs.”

Jobs are generated in a myriad of ways, one example being the impact of shale gas on the chemical industry.

“Chemical products that traditionally were made using oil are now going to be made with a much lower-priced natural gas, and that means projects we never would have envisioned being built in the United States are now looking to be built here,” Meserole said. “A lot of those chemical plants were in the Middle East, because that’s where the oil was.”

Engineering notwithstanding, there’s high demand for a variety of staff, ranging from legal staff to land surveyors and geologists to construction workers.

Deanna Jones, vice president of human resources at Newfield Exploration in The Woodlands, said the health, safety and regulatory department also is booming.

“These are areas where there’s a lot of opportunity, because regulations relating to these areas are constantly changing,” said Jones, who said a background in field operations, business and law is beneficial for this type of work.

On average, for every hire in the “technical capacity” category, which includes engineers, Newfield hires someone in a “commercial or field-operations capacity,” which includes several departments such as finance, information technology and land administration.

“Oil and gas production from shale continues to see unprecedented economic growth, and can be directly tied to the creation of significant job opportunities,” Jones said.

“That means a lot of local jobs that are here for 20-30 years and beyond. You hear about the boom-bust nature of the oil and gas business, but these unconventional plays are lifetime plays.”

As Jones said, gas isn’t the only commodity coming out of shale. There is oil too, and the two are intertwined when it comes to exploration and excavation.

“Oil shale plays like Eagle Ford will continue to grow while natural gas shale fields probably will remain near current levels until gas prices recover,” said Hance Myers, vice president and corporate information director at Plains Exploration & Production.

In terms of production, Myers said the split between Plains’ shale plays and its more conventional fields in California was about 50-50 in the second quarter.

“We have been, and will continue to grow our shale business,” Myers said.

Ross Buckner, PXP human resources manager, said hiring in Texas will continue.

“Drilling and completions engineers will be the prime focus of the hiring efforts for the foreseeable future,” Buckner said, “but we also see a need for facility, design and reliability engineers for our centralized production facilities that utilize web-based electronic monitoring and controls.”