DEP trying to hire more oil, gas inspectors
July 24, 2012 ·
State regulations on oil and gas drilling allow the Department of Environmental Protection to hire more inspectors to monitor gas wells. The DEP is trying to hire six people but is having trouble finding them.
There are around 55,000 oil and gas wells in West Virginia, and more than 10,000 inactive or abandoned wells.
New wells will also need attention as permits are approved and work begins at those sites, but the agency is having problems filling those inspector positions, according to DEP spokesman Tom Aluise.
"There were a lot of procedures we had to take care of at the outset, like writing new job descriptions," he said.
"There are not a lot of candidates out there, particularly in the inspector positions. We’re moving ahead, forging on, and we are hoping to fill these positions by the end of the year."
There are multiple challenges to filling the jobs.
The DEP can pay these inspectors $35,000 a year, which is set by statute and can’t be negotiated.
Aluise says that’s not enticing qualified candidates who can make a lot more money working in the oil and gas industry.
"The industry pays better. The new legislation addressed that. We were able to with the permit fee increase, offer starting inspectors a better salary, but still we have to battle the salaries they can make in the industry as well," Aluise said.
"That’s a hurdle, but we still feel confident that by the end of the year we will have the positions filled."
In order to become an inspector, applicants must pass a written examination.
Then applicants move to the next round, an oral examination.
While the DEP is interviewing applicants, Aluise says many people aren’t passing the written exams.
"That was kind of a roadblock there as well. It’s specific to the oil and gas industry, but it also includes basic civil service type questions that would appear on all exams you would take for civil service jobs. There’s a mix of both," he said.
The DEP also wants to hire for two positions in permitting, a geologist position who studies underground injection wells, and employees to take complaints.
Barry Pallay is with the West Virginia, Pennsylvania Monongahela Area Watersheds Compact, an organization concerned with water issues.
He’s got some ideas that he wants to share with the DEP.
"If they can’t fill these positions, I think the DEP should form another advisory committee of people that are stakeholders in this area, and people that are environmental groups, conservation groups, to assist them in addressing this problem," Pallay said.
"I think there should be another advisory council formed by DEP in this area."
Aluise says due to the staff shortage, it’s also taking more time than expected to get permits approved.
"We would like to by sometime late this year, I’m talking about horizontal well permits, the Marcellus permits, we’re trying to get to the point where we can get those in and out of here in 60 days. Right now it’s taking close to 90 days," he said.
Additional requirements for oil and gas inspectors include one to two years of experience in the industry, depending on the applicant’s background and education.