Written by Rick Hiduk
GasSearch Drilling Services (GDS) operations manager Chad Gorman has seen substantial growth in the Marcellus shale region of northern Pennsylvania and especially in Susquehanna County, where he oversees hundreds of employees. GDS, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, is contracted for water hauling services required for both drilling and hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells. The company also provides well pad construction, roustabout services, and equipment rentals direct to Cabot.
While Cabot ramps up production to meet local, regional, and international demands, GDS is striving to build its workforce in an effort to provide continued services while reducing the impact on the environment and the area’s roadways. A new facility in Lenox Township, Gorman noted, was needed to support Cabot’s dramatic increase in production in the eastern half of the county.
The new multimillion dollar Lenox maintenance facility will be fully operational in October 2019, with a grand opening scheduled for September 25, 2019. The new facility has a five-bay terminal that can accommodate maintenance on upward of 15 trucks simultaneously. At peak capacity, the Lenox facility will employ 100 people, including drivers and mechanics.
“Cabot’s growth made it possible to construct the brand new dispatch and maintenance facilities,” Gorman remarked. Increasing the fleet size by nearly 30 vehicles this year is more than just an endeavor of adding new trucks, it has been a substantial effort to fill the require 100 driver positions needed to operate them. Water trucks are replaced every three to four years, and GDS employs a rigorous internal maintenance program to ensure all vehicles are well maintained. “We make sure that trucks are not going on the road with any deficiencies,” Gorman stated.
GDS already has two facilities in Montrose and a headquarters in nearby Dimock. Ongoing growth in the industry over the past several years has allowed for substantial upgrades to and investments in the Montrose dispatch facility and the construction of the new Lenox maintenance facility.
Highlights of the Lenox facility include LED lighting throughout; zoned, in-floor radiant heating in the maintenance garage; recycled/waste oil burners as the primary heating source; and a rolled, compacted concrete (RCC) parking lot.
GDS has also taken opportunities to help the environment when constructing their facilities and streamlining their operations.
“GDS recycles 100 percent of its engine oil and uses it to heat our facilities. We have been doing so since our inception,” noted Gorman. “We estimate that we have recycled about 12,000 gallons of oil just this past year, and it keeps growing.”
In addition, GDS is proud to have a workforce comprised primarily of local workers, and the company has worked with Cabot to start a CDL (commercial drivers license) training program with a local technology center to prepare even more Susquehanna County residents for long-term, family-sustaining careers in the gas industry.
“Most of our employees are from Susquehanna County and are from these communities,” Gorman says proudly of GDS workers who volunteer at local functions. “We are the families that live here. We see each other at the grocery store, the bank and the car wash. Being able to provide opportunities for local people is probably the most rewarding part of my job.”
The new CDL program at the Elk Lake School District will be a huge benefit, Gorman related, as it will help to filter qualified drivers directly into openings as they develop.
“GDS recognizes the importance of having a local CDL training program which is why we took the time to invest and work with the school to develop this,” Gorman explained. Not only GDS, but other operators in the Marcellus shale will be able to tap into a burgeoning workforce.
In the meantime, however, GDS and companies like it are facing a serious labor shortage, which has lead GDS to look outside the county for more truck drivers, mechanics, construction and field operators and roustabouts.
“We are always looking for qualified people,” Gorman related. “Because Susquehanna County has such low employment, it makes it extremely difficult to find (additional) qualified employees here.” Established companies like GDS also face “natural attrition,” he added, which includes drivers retiring and taking promotions. “We’re going to be constantly filling these positions,” Gorman noted. “And we’ve had to look at the adjacent counties to find these people.”
GDS offers a very competitive package to attract employees to the area that includes industry-leading starting wages, great benefits, clothing allowances, and merit- and safety-based bonuses. Company officials are hoping that the location of the Lenox facility and its proximity to Interstate 81 will make it a more practical option for workers from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties in Pennsylvania and Broome County in New York.
Potential new drivers participate in a four-week mentor program. Drivers who hold a Class A or B CDL license with tanker endorsement are encouraged to apply through the GDS website portal at www.gaserachdrilling.com/employment.html.