Columbus -- Democrats in the Ohio House unsuccessfully attempted this week to force oil and gas companies to hire larger percentages of Ohioans in the state's growing production fields.
Rep. Bob Hagan, a Democrat from Youngstown, offered an amendment Dec. 11 on legislation related to professional employee organizations that would have required more than half of oilfield employees to be Ohioans.
The amendment failed, but Hagan and other House Democrats renewed their calls for comparable law changes Dec. 12, days after Gov. John Kasich voiced his concern that energy companies were bringing out-of-state workers into Ohio.
"We have noticed an unbelievable amount of people coming in from Texas and Oklahoma and other states ... roughnecks that have been doing it for a long time," Hagan said. "They stake their claim, do the drilling and then they take off. Ohioans are left with a promise of jobs that are not kept. It's very disturbing."
Rep. Mike Foley, a Democrat from the Cleveland area, added, "We're just going to continue making a big deal about this today and tomorrow, as loudly as possible, until something happens. I don't trust the oil and gas industry. It's not in their self interest right now to hire Ohioans because they've got all of these trained people from other states. But if they're going to be taking our oil and gas out of the state of Ohio... they need to use some Ohio employees to do that."
Hagan, Foley and other House Democrats want oil and gas companies to ensure at least 60 percent of their employees are Ohioans.
But Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, called the out-of-state worker concerns "a bogus issue," noting the economic impact fracking-related activities already are having in Carroll County and other areas.
"The excitement of this play is rippling through Ohio, and we simply need to make it happen," he said. "I talked to a member of mine this morning who's been in business in the state of Ohio for over 60 years, a small business, who has grown his business over 60 percent."
He added, "We have to think about the overall expanse and the economic multiplier of how this oil and gas activity and the reserves and the assets that we're going to build in this state, how that ripples through the economy.
Stewart said oil and gas production in shale deposits in eastern Ohio is in its infancy, and it's likely an increasing percentage of Ohioans will end up working on rigs as they gain the skills needed to do so.
"The Ohio shale play is one of the largest job creators to come into the state of Ohio in many, many years," he said.
But Hagan countered that oil and gas companies should be forced to hire a greater percentage of Ohioans, helping them to get up to speed on drilling techniques and ensuring residents benefit economically from the expanding industry.
"We understand it's a training process, we understand that there's a learning process in the drilling," Hagan said. "We want the gas and oil industry to justify through affidavits that they're going to hire people from Ohio. I don't think that's asking too much."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.