A high school student reporter recently turned in an excellent segment for PBS’ News Hour Weekend program about the job opportunities for young people working on pipelines in West Virginia. Among the bits this intrepid young reporter unearthed is something we told you about years ago: Some pipeline welders make salaries of $1,000+ PER DAY! Not a typo.
A number of years ago (somewhere around 2012-2013) we took a tour of several pipeline welding projects in northeastern Pennsylvania. Our host told us that the welders they employed at that time could make as much as $1,000 per day, although the days are long (10-12 hours), the work is hard, and the work is not always there.
Our young high school reporter has found something similar in WV–that one welder is earning $5,600 per week. We doubt he works 52 weeks per year, but if he did, he would make close to $300,000! Let’s see, go to college, come out with $100,000 in student loan debt and work in a job paying $50,000 per year…or learn a skill like welding and pull down over $200K per year. If we were young again, it wouldn’t even be a close decision!
Of course the question is asked: What happens when the pipeline construction boom goes bust? What happens to all these workers? We once heard a pipeline worker at a public hearing say something along these lines (going from memory, rough summary): “I’ve been working on these ‘temporary’ jobs my entire career. These jobs have paid off my house, put my kids through college, and have made a nice life for me and my family.” The point being, let’s not worry about what may or may not happen years from now–let’s take advantage of what’s here now. As the current hit song “Borrow” from Josh Wilson says,
Don’t borrow…no trouble from tomorrow
You’ll only double your sorrow
You’ll only worry your mind
Don’t borrow…no trouble from tomorrow
If you’re gonna learn to follow
You gotta take it
One day, one day at a time
Here’s the good news that kids are sticking around, and even returning, to the Mountain State to work on pipeline projects:
There are thousands of jobs in the oil and gas industry in West Virginia and the recent growth in natural gas pipeline construction is offering young West Virginians economic opportunities and a reason to stay in the state. But some are concerned the boom will eventually come to an end, leaving youth without lasting opportunities.
This next report comes from Student Reporting Labs, a NewsHour program that works with more than 100 high school journalism classrooms across the country and helps train young reporters and teach them about journalism and media literacy. Student Reporting Labs Alia King has the story.
There are hundreds of miles of pipeline crossing the rugged mountains of West Virginia, carrying natural gas to power plants, businesses and homes all across the country. For some young people, pipeline related jobs are a rare opportunity to stay in the state and make a living.
Leah Weeder is a welding student at Monongalia County Technical Education Center in Morgantown. Do you plan on staying in West Virginia after graduation?
I do plan on staying in West Virginia. It’s always going to be home. I want to work on the pipeline because I guess I’ve always liked to be outside. And it’s really good money.
West Virginia led the nation with a 14.4% increase in new construction jobs – more than 4,000 – between January 2017 and January 2018, according to the General Contractors of America. Much of the job growth is attributed to pipeline projects.
Brittany Moody is the lead engineer on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, known as the ACP, a 600 mile project that goes through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. According to Moody, the ACP has created over 4000 construction jobs.
I have eight construction spreads. Each spread is made up of approximately 500 to 800 employees. So when they come to the area, you know that’s a pretty big impact especially in these little tiny towns that we’re used to being in.
Many of the workers on the ACP grew up in West Virginia, but the increase in new jobs has brought in workers from out of state as well.
Cody Hibbard lives in Arkansas but has been jumping between welding gigs across the country since he left the naval academy at age 19. Several months ago, he drove to Buckhannon, West Virginia in his truck and camper to work on the ACP.
The wage is definitely liveable. It’s a great way to make a living.
Cody earns $5600 per week in addition to benefits.
Joshua Hall is a professor of economics at West Virginia University. He says pipeline construction has stimulated the state’s economy.
Undoubtedly there’s real benefits from the shale gas boom. Some counties have doubled their property tax revenues and that helps all citizens of the state.
But he warns the boom might not last.
I think the biggest draw back that the shale gas boom had is it is a lure for a high school graduate to go into that industry which might be temporary instead of going to college.
Hannah Criser is a senior at University High School in Morgantown. She is staying in state to study political science but is unsure what will happen after graduating college.
I’m not sure if I would have job security for what I’m interested in. I think a lot of people in wv feel the same way. Wv is one of the only states that’s actively losing population.
What does opportunity mean to you?
Opportunity means that if I have desires and passions I can explore those wholeheartedly 110%. But I can’t do that right now. And opportunity in West Virginia is severely lacking in that sense.
Even pipeline workers from out of state, such as Cody Hibbard, aren’t sure how long they will be able to stick around.
I don’t know if I’ll stay in West Virginia. Really depends on where our work is at.
But the future of pipeline jobs is also affected by environmental regulation. In December, a federal appeals court rejected permits for the ACP to cross two national forests and the Appalachian trail. With construction stalled, project managers were forced to lay off or delay hiring more than 4500 workers. Like most young people looking for work, they will move to wherever the jobs are, in or out of state.
For PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, I’m Alia King in Morgantown, West Virginia.*
*PBS News Hour Weekend (Apr 7, 2019) – Can West Virginia’s pipeline jobs keep youth in the state?
Crank up the speakers and give the following catchy tune a listen:
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