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Economy and Business

Drug tests and drilling jobs are often in conflict
Half or more of the would be fracking workers are rejected for bad drug-tests

Ohio is expected to see a hiring boom connecting to drilling, but drug tests may disqualify half the applicants.
Courtesy of TIM RUDDELL
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In The Region:

Drilling for oil and gas in Ohio's shale is expected to ramp up in the next two years. But, industry leaders say they've hit a snag: Too few potential workers can pass a required drug screen. For Ohio Public Radio, WOSU Tom Borgerding has more.

BOGERDING: Oil fields and drug tests

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The richest deposits of oil and natural gas in Ohio’s Utica shale formation are believed to be in the counties in the east, in the foothills of Appalachia. There’s a growing demand for workers there. But industry officials say too few qualify, in part, because they cannot pass a required drug screen.

“This is becoming a bigger problem, or people are finally being made aware that this is a bigger problem than we ever realized,” says Rhonda Reda. 

Reda is head of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program. She says abuse of prescription and illegal drugs makes it difficult to find enough workers. She says companies are reporting a rejection rate of applicants tied to drug use as high as 60 percent.

Who do you want operating that crane
Reda’s organization operates training programs throughout eastern Ohio. She says the industry is in a race against time. So far, it’s added about 39,000 jobs in Ohio but she predicts thousands of new jobs will be added during the next three years. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says 45 new horizontal wells in eastern Ohio are already producing oil and natural gas, and it’s issued permits for nearly 500 more. 

New Concord consultant Elizabeth Carter recruits oilfield workers. She conducts seminars in a bid to find drug-free applicants.

“If you’ve got a crane operator and he’s on Vicodin right now, do you want him on your job site?” asks Carter, who then answers: “Probably not.”

Clean today, not tomorrow
Carter says some workers who pass an initial drug screen are employed only a short time because required random follow-up tests reveal problems.

“Those new hires are usually on there (lists for followup tests), and that’s when they fail the drug test. They’ve cleaned up for your pre-employment and then think that they’re good to go and then they have positive for a random.”

The Centers for Disease Control says prescription drug abuse is epidemic across the country. Dr. Neil Capretto is the medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Centers, which includes centers in Ohio. He says he’s not surprised by a 50 to 60 percent rejection rate of potential oilfield workers in eastern Ohio. And in many working-class areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania, he says there a physical cause.

“People who are involved with more manual labor, physical type work are more likely to have work related injuries, go to doctors, get prescription medicine,” says Capretto.

Capretto and Reda both say prescription and illegal drug abuse is a huge problem, and it’s prompting energy companies to bring some workers to Ohio from other states. Reda predicts about 30 percent of new jobs created in Ohio’s oil and natural gas fields will be filled by workers from outside Ohio.

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