Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Symposium focuses on local impact of oil and gas boom

  • More than 300 people attended yesterday's Regional Oil and Natural Gas Symposium hosted by the Dodge City/Ford County Economic Development Corporation.

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  • More than 300 people attended yesterday's Regional Oil and Natural Gas Symposium hosted by the Dodge City/Ford County Economic Development Corporation. Breakout sessions and panel discussions focusing on the oil and gas industry's effects on housing, education, public safety, workforce, public infrastructure and healthcare were included in the conference.
    Dodge City Mayor Rick Sowers opened the day with remarks on his expectations for the symposium.
    “Our hope is that this will be valuable and you will gain some experience for the communities that you represent,” Sowers said.
    In the first session of the day, Natural Gas & Oil 101, James Roller, manager of corporate development and government relations at Chesapeake Energy, presented the natural gas production process.
    He broke the procedure down into five basic steps - site selection and preparation, drilling, completion, production and reclamation.
    Selecting a site includes the geology and topography of the area as well as road to access the area. According to Roller, it takes four to six weeks to construct a pad site where the drilling will take place. Pad sites are usually about 300 by 400 feet in dimension and are covered by a protective mat to prevent contamination if spilling occurs.
    Roller touted the value of horizontal drilling, and discussed the smaller surface impact, fewer wells, less waste and lower air emissions.
    “It would take us about 16 drilling locations to produce 640 acres,” he said. “But with horizontal drilling today and one single well pad site, we have the ability to produce same number of minerals or hydrocarbons from that one location.”
    Roller said that he recognized that while this process allows for some positive changes, the impact hydraulic fracturing could have on groundwater is of main concern of southwest Kansans.
    Roller addressed these concerns by sharing that throughout the drilling process protective casings and layers of cement are put in place to protect the fresh water zone.
    He gave a information on a website, fracfocus.org, where information on chemicals used in each drilling location as well as the amount of water and sand being used can be found. A well's vertical depth and total water volume in terms of gallons are also shown on the website.
    “Sometimes we get a black eye because we use chemicals, well just know that a lot of the chemicals we use are for well water integrity, because for you and for me over the life of this well, I want the steel and the pieces of that well to continue to make it strong,” Roller said.
    “The chemicals used today are moving towards more sustainability, more green, more food grade to allow us to continue to be cleaner and then also working on water recycling projects across the United States,” Roller said.
    Page 2 of 3 - Economic impact on the workforce
    In a later session focusing on the effect of the oil and gas industry on the local workforce, prominent members from cities that have experienced the oil boom firsthand shared their experiences.
    Dickinson, N.D. City Manager Shawn Kessel said his community saw an increase in the standard of living and average wage, as well as a decrease in the unemployment rate when the oil boom hit Dickinson.
    “In 2011, mining jobs were the number one employer in Dickinson and have gone up by 107 percent,” he said.
    He listed healthcare as the number two employer, followed by retail trade and construction. Transportation jobs have gone up 28 percent.
    He acknowledged that jobs in his area are plentiful, but action had to be taken by the public sector to keep people from being lured away by mining jobs. The city decided to implement a skill-based pay system as well as hiring bonuses to increase the longevity of employees.
    The Mayor of Dickinson, ND Dennis Johnson said Dickinson saw shortages in hospitality at hotels and service workers at local stores.
    “If you have community colleges or vocational schools in your area you're really going to be blessed because we don't have enough workers with construction skills,” he said of his community.
    “This means skilled workers like electricians, plumbers, welders,” he said. “The oil industry demands a lot of these kind of workers and those types of skills are in real short supply and they do really well.”
    Johnson explained how, until the mid 80's, the focus in Dickinson was to create jobs. In 2000, town officials realized that there were more jobs than people.
    “Now, we have jobs, we have a lot of people, but guess what, they have no place to live,” he said.
    You cannot separate housing issues from workforce issues, he warned.
    Eric Benson, city manager of Enid, Oklahoma also took part in the workforce discussion.
    When questioned on how he increased the workforce numbers after the impact of the oil industry in Enid, he gave simple advice.
    “Be resourceful.”
    He suggested not only looking for highly-educated people to fill jobs, but to also grow the blue collar work force and taking a chance on experience levels.
    “There are kids right under our noses that are tremendous talents,” Benson said.
    Another panel member, Doug Haines the assistant city manager of Woodward, Okla. cautioned that while the oil industry will offer jobs, they cannot hire all of the available workforce.
    “These companies want to hire locals but they must have the necessary skill set to complete the jobs,” he said. “By the time they finish training a guy to operate the equipment the mine will be finished. They just don't have the time.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Haines also said that when the companies leave, wage rates will normalize nearly overnight.
    “When the height of the economy is there and you're paying really strong wages and large part of the work force moves on to the next area, the employer is put back in a negotiating position that he wasn't in before.
    He offered a final piece of advice which the other panelists echoed.
    “Retrain your existing work force for what's coming down the pipeline.”

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