An influx of pipeline workers for the oil and gas industry is providing a burst of economic activity in the Marietta area and filling local RV parks, including about 25 spaces being rented at the Washington County Fairgrounds.
That's great news, according to Steve Tornes, vice president of the Washington County Fair Board.
"We're normally not open for RV parking during the winter but these guys have been a real godsend," he said. "And after this year's fair we really needed the business."
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Ben Mellady of Lafayette, Ind., watches as a neighbor’s dog runs near his RV trailer at the Washington County Fairgrounds Wednesday afternoon. Mellady, a teamster, is among a group of more than 20 natural gas “pipeliners” currently staying at the fairgrounds.
Tornes said a rainy fair weekend in September ended with a revenue loss of between $50,000 and $60,000.
"Renting the RV space won't cover that loss but at least we can pay our bills," he said.
One of the "pipeliners" is Steve Assel, a heavy equipment operator originally from Texas, who has spent the last six years on the road, going where the pipeline work takes him, his wife Peg, and their poodle Misty Michelle.
About the influx
RV parks in the Marietta area are seeing an unusual amount of business this winter as oil and gas pipeline workers or "pipeliners" have moved in since November.
Some area hotels have also seen an uptick in business due to the influx of pipeliners.
The workers are installing lines that will carry natural gas extracted from shale beds in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
"We've been here about a month and we follow the work," Assel said. "My last job was in Utah but there's quite a lot of work now in West Virginia and Pennsylvania."
"A lot of pipeline jobs are starting in the Wheeling area and there's supposed to be a lot of work coming in Ohio, too," Peg Assel added.
The couple has plenty of company as they and other workers move from state to state every few months, building pipelines that will carry natural gas harvested from the Marcellus and Utica shale beds by the oil and gas industry.
Most of the pipeliners camped at the fairgrounds and nearby Marietta RV facilities on Front Street work for Price Gregory International, headquartered in Houston, Texas.
Like most of their neighbors at the fairground site, the Assels' 39-foot trailer has all the comforts of home, including a living room with satellite television, kitchen, bedroom, bath and washer and dryer.
"Some trailers don't have a washer and dryer, so those people use the local laundromats," Peg said. "And these pipeliners eat at local restaurants and buy groceries at area stores, so it's good for the local economy when they come into town."
Outside a nearby trailer Ben Mellady, a teamster from Lafayette, Ind., tossed a couple sets of heavy-duty coveralls into the back seat of his pickup truck.
"I've been driving lowboys for Price Gregory in the New Martinsville, W.Va., area since Jan. 4," he said. "My father, Phil, is also here. He drives trucks, too, so it's kind of a family business. We've been doing this for about 12 years now."
Mellady's wife, Sara, had just flown into the area from Lafayette to meet her husband at the fairgrounds this week.
"She used to make these trips with me, but we just had a son last year and another child-a girl-is due to be born in April," he said. "So for the last year and a half my wife hasn't been able to come along."
Mellady said both he and his father enjoy the pipeliner life.
"Traveling to different areas and working with a whole new crew every few months is what we like," he said. "The jobs average about three to six months."
Mellady said the Marietta area is a welcome change from some larger cities where RV parks often hike their rates when they know the pipeliners are coming to town.
"But the people here have treated us well. And we really appreciate that," he added, noting that pipeliners are also helping the economy by spending money locally.
Clyde Huddleston, who operates a small RV park along South Seventh Street, said he is thankful for the business in January.
"I have about four or five staying here now," he said. "They came in during December. They're all good-mannered people and they're giving area businesses a good shot in the arm."
Huddleston said he's heard RV parks between Marietta and New Martinsville are filled with the workers.
Some pipeline workers are also staying in local hotels.
"We've had some here-they usually stay for a couple of nights at a time," said Andy Benson, general manager at the Marietta Holiday Inn.
"We have also been attending some seminars, trying to get a grip on how long we can expect these workers to continue and how we can best benefit from that," he said.
Margaret Karcher has lived in the Marietta RV Park on Front Street for several years but has never seen so many RVs in the park at this time of the year.
"They started coming in November," she said. "We usually have a few people staying here in the winter but this is quite different."
Mario Marinucci, originally from Chicago, said he and his wife enjoy living on the road in their RV.
"This is our home full time," he said. "My wife is a heavy equipment operator and I'm a boilermaker. And we've been coming here for the last six or seven years-we really like this city."
Marinucci said the Marietta RV Park usually has only 10 or so campers at the most during winter months.
"But there are probably more than 20 vehicles parked in here now," he said.