Chesapeake Energy and Nomac Drilling, like this one
in Searcy Arkansas, is being proposed for Athens, Pa.
By Tom Wilber •firstname.lastname@example.org
October 24, 2009, 5:40 pm
They have physiques for hard labor, a fondness for steak and a home away from home called a Man Camp.
In Athens Township, Pa., Chesapeake Energy and Nomac Drilling are planning a 180-bed gated compound to house their crews when they're not pulling 12-hours shifts, seven days a week, on derricks being erected throughout the countryside.
The name roughneck, which crews tend to embrace as a badge of honor, reflects the demanding and sometimes risky work that sustains them, and the cowboy mystique they bring from their hometowns in the South and West.
Nomac, a principal contractor for Chesapeake, is one of many companies relocating manpower and equipment to the Northeast to develop the Marcellus, the largest natural gas reserve in the country...
Unlike other firms, however, Nomac and Chesapeake won't leave crews to house and feed themselves. They are proposing to build a secured modular-home park in Athens, modeled after one in Searcy, Ark.
Commonly referred to as a "Man Camp" by everyone outside the corporate world, it's indigenous to the landscape and drilling culture out there, yet it's a new and foreign presence to the blue-collar worker here.
It has a mess hall, recreation room and laundry. Workers, manning opposing 12-hour shifts, share dorm-style rooms.
Around the perimeter will be a security fence and "facility managers" will track residents, who are required to sign in and sign out. Visitors won't be welcome.Not surprisingly, it has raised plenty of questions. First and foremost: What's the fence for?
Matt Sheppard, Chesapeake's senior director corporate development, has a simple answer: "These people are working hard. They need a comfortable, secure, consistent place to rest."
The fence, according to Chesapeake officials, keeps out unwanted visitors and minimizes events that could disrupt the crews' sleep. For the record, Chesapeake prefers the name "residential facility" over Man Camp.
"They're trying to get away from that image of the old days," said Jack Walter, an Athens Township Supervisor who was one of several elected officials flown in a private jet to tour the camp in Searcy.
"This is tough, dangerous work, and they want them to be ready and alert on the job," Walter said. "They want them to have the right amount of rest and the right amount of food. They don't want them drinking and carousing and things like that."
He added: "I think this is more of a controlled environment so they don't get into that kind of stuff. That point wasn't made to us, but you can come to your own conclusion."
Go East young man
Since the beginning of the year, Chesapeake's labor force in Pennsylvania has increased from 200 to 700, Sheppard said. It's expected to have 40 rigs in operation in the next year or two -- more than twice the current number -- with 165 Marcellus wells targeted for 2010.
Many of those jobs are occupied by industry career men following opportunities.In some cases, they are finding a warm welcome in the Northeast, where local farmers, quarrymen, and construction workers look to join their ranks. Nomac is also recruiting former military personnel with ties to Pennsylvania, Sheppard said.
Monday, Chesapeake and Nomac Drilling are holding a job fair in Towanda to recruit local hires.
A good bunch
About 40 miles due east of Athens, Cabot Oil & Gas has staked out its own territory over the Marcellus in Dimock Township. Like Chesapeake, Cabot is ramping up drilling operations, importing crews from the South and hiring new people.
Between 150 and 200 workers are developing gas wells in Susquehanna County, about half of what the company plans to eventually employ in the area, said Rick Mullins, foreman of the Susquehanna District Office.Unlike Chesapeake, Cabot doesn't house its crews in Man Camps. They live out of hotels between Great Bend and Scranton or rent homes. They patronize local delis, restaurants and convenience stores.
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