ACA Blog

Pam Ebert
Aug 13, 2012

Counseling and the Natural Gas/Shale Industry

Hey all! Glad to be back for another week and another chance to share information about life in Appalachia. What’s going on? The biggest thing happening right now in northern Appalachian is the advent of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shales. Drilling and exploration in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia has changed many lives and communities due to increased traffic, noise pollution, impact on rural lifestyles and alteration of the land we so love.

Why am I discussing this in a counseling blog?

The shale boom has recently hit my county and life here is changing at a rather rapid pace. People who own land are getting big checks from Chesapeake and other big mining operations so that their land can be explored for natural gas deposits. Coal miners, who up until now have had good, well paying jobs, are getting laid off as mine after mine is closed down because the price of coal has decreased. Those workers, who have been coal miners for generations in some families, might not have the required skills to adapt rapidly to the natural gas industry. Thus, families who used to be stable are no longer so, and families who never had two nickels to rub together are getting lots of money. In short, the economic changes in the region are impacting families and communities, for better and worse. As counselors, we know for sure that where there are changes, there are clients who have difficulties adapting to them, and counseling caseloads increase.

Alcohol and drug counselors, pay attention!

For those of us who are chemical dependency counselors, an opportunity is arising. As new jobs come into the areas where shale booms are occurring, there is a need for a drug-free, skilled work force. That’s where counselors come in. Often blue collar laborers in Appalachia use alcohol and drugs to cope with mind-numbingly tedious tasks, physical discomfort on the job and the stressors of hazardous work. So-called pill mills have been a problem in our region as illegal (or” legal”) prescription drugs are easy to obtain, cheap to afford and highly addictive.

For alcohol and drug counselors, there will be increased need for counselors and agencies to provide drug and alcohol tests, post-accident alcohol and drug assessments and counseling so that workers who cannot pass the ubiquitous pre-employment drug screens can stop using alcohol and drugs and get a high paying job. Counseling agencies and private practices alike would benefit from learning about the natural gas industries in their areas and seeing how counseling know-how could be used.

Career Counselors, this is for you!

For those who are considering career changes, whether from coal mining to natural gas mining, or to a company that plays a supplemental role to the shale industry, like trucking, pipeline maintenance and construction, hazardous waste disposal, career counseling can be important.

Another avenue that may be coming to the Columbiana County area specifically is a $900 million natural gas processing plant. This plant which will be located outside of Hanoverton (pop. 387) will eventually employ around a hundred people in the natural gas industry. Common sense tells us that this community is about to change a lot, both in terms of occupational prospects and changes in home life.
Clients can, with the help of a skilled counselor, investigate careers that they might be suitable for, take interest assessments and determine work environments that are desirable. Counselors who specialize in rural counseling or career counseling with blue collar workers will be especially in demand.

Where is this happening?

Right now in Ohio the shale boom is most observable in Columbiana, Carroll and Harrison Counties. These Ohio counties are experiencing the shale boom, but natural gas drilling started a few years back in Pennsylvania and New York, as well as western states like Texas and Oklahoma.

From these areas we can predict that similar impact from shale development will occur in Appalachia. The current research says that counselors can help communities to weather the shale boom by increasing social capital, providing supportive group opportunities and advocating for the creation of forums where citizens and industry officials can have meaningful talks about how growth and development will occur.

Questions or comments?

I am very interested in hearing from counselors in other regional or geographical areas that have experienced that natural gas shale boom! Specifically, I’d like to know what impact it had on your communities, how the counseling world fit into those impacts and how you feel the counseling profession can help.

My email is pmillike@kent.edu. I welcome feedback and discussion on these and other topics, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

…of course, that’s just my opinion. I may be wrong.



Pam Ebert is a counselor in private practice while completing her doctoral work. She has a special interest in both rural and Appalachian cultures and how they pertain to the world of counseling.

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