Pennsylvania’s New Gold Rush: ‘Company Man’ opens student’s eyes

By Deborah Overbeck

Something hit me the day I met David Blood.

Any hour before noon on a Saturday is considered the crack-of-dawn for a college student, so to be riding in a van packed with two professors and eight classmates at 7 in the morning was not quite enthralling for any of us. As the van turned left off campus, we began our voyage to northeastern Pennsylvania. Unenthused about the day ahead of us, the majority of students plugged their ears with headphones in an almost synchronized manner.

The topic of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” was one that we had discussed for nearly two months and quite frankly, we were sick of it. It wasn’t until we reached the middle of nowhere P.A. that our understanding of fracking would be put to the test.

We pulled off I-81 in West Harford, Pa., and drove a short distance up a dirt road, leading us to a drilling site, Rig 538 to be exact. Gazing up at the 80-foot-high metal contraption, I started to wonder what I was doing. Of course, it was a miserable, foggy, rainy day, which did not make things any better. Within minutes of stepping out of the van my brand new leather high-top Sperry boots were covered in a gray clay-like mud— not cool.

Naturally, I was the student chosen to hike up the mucky hill in search of a human life to give our class an interview. The first two men I came across were wearing full-length black rubber trench coats, construction work boots, goggles and hard hats. They were covered in all kinds of gunk but didn’t seem the slightest bit bothered by it. I introduced myself and explained my interest in learning about their jobs.

As I spoke, the words exiting my mouth became silent to my own ears. My eyes honed in on a tiny detail that to them, seemed completely insignificant, but to me, was appalling. In the calloused hands of each man were lit cigarettes. I wondered to myself, “Should they be puffing away at those tobacco-filled sticks while natural gases are being sucked from the ground we’re standing on?” I reported to my less-than-eager class that someone would be down soon to talk with us.

After a short time David Blood trudged down in a much more graceful way than I had, not tripping over every rock and twig. Blood was dressed in a pair of worn-in overalls, plaid flannel shirt and a red, white and blue hard hat with a sticker reading “Cabot David Blood.” Employed by Cabot Oil & Gas, he was in charge of Rig 538.

A former Louisiana resident with the accent to prove it, Blood said he began working in the natural gas industry in 1978. His upbringing made some of us feel like lazy, spoiled New Jerseyans. “I grew up busting my back at 12 years old, and ya’ know, kids today just don’t grow up like that and that’s why it’s hard to get people to work on these rigs because it’s work for 12 hours a day and 14 days straight.” Because of one of his youthful adventures, he was missing an index finger.

Aside from feeling like a bum for recently have quit my part-time job, another feeling overcame me: respect. I had been overwhelmed trying to balance the last few classes of my college career with a part-time job at a mall. The little stress in my life seemed trivial compared to jobs of these men.

I learned that the drilling rig took roughly four days to assemble, six days to drill and another four to disassemble. Even if the nation is relying on these drillers to locate and extract a considerable amount of natural gas to help fuel our economy, 14 days does not seem like enough time.

The job requires a tremendous amount of hands-on, manual labor, something I’m not very familiar with. To think that I complained about carrying a few trays of cupcakes up some stairs at my ex-part-time job.

Thinking back, I’m unsure if I was honestly interested in learning about his job or if I just wanted to listen to him speak, though it was probably the latter. He seemed to take great pride in something that my classmates and I couldn’t care less about.

Meeting David Blood helped me in an odd way. Although I don’t think I’ll carry a life-long interest in the art of natural gas extraction, I do think that I will push myself to find a job that is meaningful and one that I will be proud of.

“I hope I helped ya’ll out a little bit, now I gotta go use my brain and my calculator,” Blood concluded, hands in his overall pockets. He turned and headed back up to the drilling platform where he and his men continued drilling more than a mile into the ground beneath us.

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