DEP closer to hiring oil, gas inspectors
October 17, 2012 ·
The WV Department of Environmental Protection has been struggling to fill vacancies of inspectors in its Office of Oil and Gas. The problem isn’t about getting applicants; it’s about a lack of qualifications and inability to move through the process.
Last December’s legislation regarding gas drilling regulations paved the way to provide enough money for the DEP to hire four more oil and gas inspectors. But the process hasn’t been easy.
Applicants must first pass a written examination before moving onto the next stage of interviews.
Several people haven’t passed that written test.
Tom Aluise, spokesman for the DEP, says to add to that, the agency has three other vacant positions that need filled.
"We’re actively interviewing for all of the vacant positions. Some inspectors have multiple counties they cover," Aluise said.
One problem the DEP is facing is getting people with enough experience.
The job requires one year of prior work in the oil and gas industry, but Aluise says it’s difficult to find people that have that.
"That can include a lot of things: well design, drilling, completion, production, plugging, a whole list of areas there. They have to have that one year regardless of what their education background is," Aluise said.
"So if they have an engineering degree from college, but they don’t have one year of experience in the oil and gas industry, they’re not eligible. That’s an issue that we’ve talked about going to the legislature and changing, because we feel we can train people if they don’t have that experience."
Two of those seven openings are now filled. The remaining open positions would cover Doddridge, Tyler, Mingo, Cabell, Wayne, Lewis, Braxton, Gilmer, Pocahontas and Webster counties.
The starting salaries for the positions are $35,000 a year.
Aluise says that’s much lower than the salaries of several jobs in the industry, so it’s even more difficult to attract qualified candidates.
"That’s one issue we have. The other issue is that the tests the inspectors have to take; seven people actually failed the test, so they couldn’t move on to the oral part of the application process," Aluise said.
"There’s just not a large pool of candidates out there. I believe the register has maybe 12 names on it, which is the pool of names that we are interviewing people from."
Oil and gas inspectors are responsible for monitoring wells, active and abandoned.
According to the DEP’s State of the Environment report, released last year, the state has more than 55,000 thousand wells.
In addition, it has 13,000 abandoned gas wells. Several of those are plugged but others aren’t, and the inspectors have to be trained on how to address them.
"That’s a whole other issue that we’re dealing with right now. We’re having a workshop in a couple weeks where we’re going to talk about the issue of abandoned wells," Aluise said.
"Part of the problem there for us as well is getting enough inspectors to be able to keep a handle on those."
Aluise says the agency is hopeful that the positions will be filled by the end of the year.
In the meantime, the agency is still reviewing and issuing permits.
While there’s a backlog right now on well permits, Aluise says the hiring process and need for additional inspectors hasn’t impacted the permit process.
"We continue to try to issue those without sacrificing the quality of our review. We’re still trying to issue those in a timely manner and address the backlog of permits that are out there, pending permits. We’re still making headway there as well," Aluise said.
The Office of Oil and Gas will have 21 inspectors when all vacancies are filled.
Other employees in that office include supervisors and reviewers.
Their primary responsibility is to review possible permits.