Linde Corp., a utility contractor based in Pittston, started testing natural gas pipelines in the Marcellus Shale development region in December.
SCE Environmental Group Inc., a Mount Cobb specialty construction and cleanup business, has hired 35 people in the last 15 months as it expands services to the gas industry.
“We saw an opportunity and it was in our backyard,” said Jody Cordaro, SCE founder and president.
Advanced-Tec Materials LLC, a Hazleton technology company that started providing a product to the gas industry in 2012, expects to multiply its workforce sevenfold this year.
As gas development moves beyond the beginning stages in the region, more companies in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties provide goods and services to the sector.
“There’s billions in economic activity happening 20 miles from here,” said William Sordoni, president and chief executive at Sordoni Construction Inc., Forty Fort.
While the natural gas industry expands in surrounding counties, though, the metro area has yet to develop a plan to capitalize, Mr. Sordoni said.
“I’m not seeing where groups of industries – or groups of businesses – have banded together to make something happen,” said Mr. Sordoni, who heads a task force at the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development that is compiling a study on how to integrate gas development further into the regional economy.
“We are trying to come up with a targeted economic development strategy for the valley region,” he said.
Some companies, nevertheless, create their own opportunities.
Linde did hydrostatic testing to gauge strengths and leaks in utility pipelines at its construction sites for decades before it started offering the service to gas companies late in 2012. Now, about six Linde workers test gas pipelines with pressurized, dyed liquid.
“You have to inspect every weld” along gas lines, Linde spokesman Kevin Lynn said. “In a mile of pipeline, there might be 250 welds.”
In 2010, Linde and Baker Hughes, a Texas energy development services company employed three people when they opened a transload facility and “liquid mud” manufacturing operation at the Carbondale rail yard in Fell Twp. Today, 14 people work at the facility, where bulk rail shipments of gas-drilling materials are transported to production sites, along with liquid mud, a clay-based compound used to seal gas wells and remove drill cuttings.
About 80 percent of Linde’s work is related to gas development, up from 20 percent in 2008, Mr. Lynn said.
SCE, which provides pipeline services, emergency response, cleanup and erosion and sedimentation control at gas-drilling sites, had four employees when it was founded in 2000 as an environmental construction firm. Now, it has more than 100 workers, Mr. Cordaro said, primarily because of its gas industry links.
“We have grown about 35 percent each year over the past three years,” Mr. Cordaro said. “We’re hiring more people.”
In 2011, SCE formed BlueStone, a distributor based in Pittston, to supply chemicals for gas well-development. BlueStone employs seven people, Mr. Cordaro said.
Advanced-Tec began providing polyceramic foam to gas companies in 2012. The compound, which is derived partly from coal ash, provides ground stabilization at drilling sites, gas-related structures and pipelines. It is useful for the industry because of its rigidity and fire-resistance.
Work associated with gas extraction now accounts for about 40 percent of Advanced-Tec’s business, said Fransisco Torres-Aranda Jr., company president.
After averaging monthly shipments of about 6,500 pounds of polyceramic foam for the last year, the company received an order for 10 million pounds in 2014, Mr. Torres-Aranda said.
Advanced-Tech plans to increase employment to 35 from five by the end of the year and invest $250,000 in new production equipment, Mr. Torres-Arana said.
“The companies are coming to us, which is nice” he said. “Because of the influx of the industry, we have kind of changed our focus.”
Microbac Laboratories Inc. expanded its focus in 2012 when it acquired a North Scranton lab business that ceased operations.
Microbac, which is based in Pittsburgh, inherited the former company’s two employees and now has seven workers in the city, senior vice president Cherie Gudz said.
The lab received accreditation from the state in May and technicians at the Main Avenue site test water samples for gas companies and homeowners in the drilling region, Mrs. Gudz said. The company also tests food, agricultural, consumer and manufactured products and other materials.
“We are bringing that business back to Scranton,” Mrs. Gudz said. “We are hiring technical people to work in our lab.”
Individual success stories aside, the region needs to develop a unified gas-development approach and capitalize on the local labor pool, technology, worker skills, location and other assets, Mr. Sordoni said.
“We are not really in it,” he said. “The biggest issue out there is jobs and job creation.”