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Gas worker residency data missing from Tomblin report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration told state lawmakers that the boom in natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale field "continues to have a positive impact on West Virginia's economy."

Employment in oil and gas industries grew by just more than 20 percent in 2012, according to a report from the Department of Commerce's Workforce West Virginia division. Average wages also increased, from about $70,000 to $75,600, the reports said.

But the annual report left out some important information: How many of the jobs created by the Marcellus rush are going to West Virginia residents, and how many to out-of-state workers?

For the second year in a row, the Tomblin administration report did not provide that key -- and legislatively mandated -- data about the residency of natural gas industry workers.

The Commerce Department added information about the race, ethnicity and gender of gas industry workers to this year's report. But, "Unfortunately, there are still some details we are unable to provide," an agency spokeswoman said.

As companies race to tap into the Marcellus gas reserves and build associated pipelines and gas-processing facilities, organized labor groups have complained that companies were bringing in out-of-state workers to fill too many of the new jobs.

During a special session in late 2011 that focused on new environmental rules on drilling, a few lawmakers tried to address the workforce issue. They proposed language to require companies to submit new reports to the state to provide an employee residency breakdown.

Industry lobbyists objected to this language, and it was removed during closed-door negotiations between the Tomblin administration and those lobbyists.

A committee bill, approved in the House after months of discussion at interim meetings, had required companies to disclose the information. But the governor's bill, which eventually passed, instead mandated a government study by the Commerce Department.

Under the final version, the state's report was required to include, among other things, a review of the number of jobs created for legal West Virginia residents and non-residents and a review of "the number of employees domiciled" in West Virginia.

Under the law, the report was required to be submitted to lawmakers by each Nov. 1, through 2016.

So far, the annual reports, issued last year and again last week, make no mention of the residency of natural gas industry workers.

Last year, Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said that his agency had not collected worker residency data in the past, and "had no outside resource to gain that information from."

On Friday, Chelsea Ruby, the Commerce Department spokeswoman, said that WorkForce West Virginia "continues to work diligently to provide the Legislature with the most complete and accurate information available for the Marcellus Shale industry.

In an email message, Ruby said that WorkForce West Virginia tried to get the data from both the Division of Labor and the Office of Insurance Commissioner. The Insurance Commissioner does not collect the information, she said. The labor division "has some data, but it's incidental, and would not represent an accurate sample."

"The only department who we believe might have it is Revenue, and they are prohibited by law from sharing it," Ruby said.

Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, said that before the final bill was approved, the Tomblin administration assured his group that it wasn't necessary to mandate that companies provide the state with new information about employee residency. Such data was already available and could be compiled and put in the Commerce Department report required by the final bill, White said he was told.

"The Legislature clearly directed the state to include where these workers were from and they apparently failed to do so two years in a row," White said last week. "It remains a critical issue."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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