The oil and gas industry needs to plan for training and developing personnel to support the burgeoning US LNG export sector, experts say.
At this writing, the U.S. government has approved four major liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal projects and has yet to decide on 21 additional applications for similar facilities. Three of the four approved projects are located on the Gulf Coast while the fourth is on the East Coast.
As the images below suggest, the four approved projects will support thousands of jobs during construction and hundreds of jobs once the liquefaction terminals begin operations. In addition, the facilities are expected to spur thousands of more indirect jobs among vendors providing equipment and services during the construction and operations phases. LNG exports could create anywhere from 30,431 to 122,462 direct and indirect jobs by 2035, according to a May 2013 report that ICF International conducted for the American Petroleum Institute (API). Factoring in induced jobs, which stem from the economic activity of direct and indirect jobholders, the LNG export employment impact ranges from 72,045 to 665,000 new jobs within the period, according to the API-funded study.
Under the most optimistic scenario, the federal government would approve all of the pending project applications. A Houston-based LNG industry executive acknowledges that many of the proposals likely will not be built, but he added that even if only several make the government's cut, they will be significant sources of new employment.
"Most experts will concede that only a handful will actually be constructed and operated," said John Hritcko, Jr. "But, assuming that five or six of the large liquefaction plants do go into operation, that's the equivalent of five or six new small refineries on top of the big petrochemical expansions being undertaken today."
Types of direct and indirect jobs
Direct jobs at LNG export terminals run the gamut from generalized positions transferable across industries to highly specialized roles unique to the LNG sector and will naturally hinge on the stage of the project's development, said Joseph A. Vaszily, instructor with The Oxford Princeton Programme.
"The most obvious, initially, will be the construction jobs created by new liquefaction production facilities being built," said Vaszily, who has more than 3 decades of industry experience in engineering and senior management positions with natural gas utilities, consulting firms and has served as an on-loan executive director of the American Gas Association.
"Operations personnel training generally begins as the construction is winding down so these jobs will not be seen immediately," Vaszily added. "There may be an increase in operations/maintenance personnel as well as the facilities come on-line."
Training for most construction positions with LNG projects is on-the-job, but many of the necessary construction skill sets are transferable from other industries, Vaszily noted. However, finding the right mix of workers at the right time during construction can be a vexing proposition, he added.
"[T]he question will be whether there are sufficient personnel available all at the same time when the facilities are being built," he explained. "This also applies to the operations/maintenance jobs as the equipment may be new but certainly within the skill set of most who have previous experience."
"There are certain skilled specialties that are generally available only in limited quantities," Vaszily continued, using recent experiences of project developers in burgeoning LNG exporter Australia as a case in point.
"Part of the problem with the LNG development in Australia has been the failure to attract sufficient skilled personnel, thus requiring that additional incentives be given to get them there," he said. "This has driven up the cost."
In terms of operations jobs, a liquefaction terminal relies largely on traditional trades such as mechanics, electricians, laborers and plant operators, said Hritcko. An LNG export facility will also need white-collar positions such as managers and other staff to oversee operations, ensure compliance and perform accounting and other functions, he added.
"Clearly, the large percentage of these positions are skilled and professional jobs that require a minimum of trade school or a 2- or 4-year technical degree," said Hritcko.
Outside of direct operations positions, a liquefaction terminal will spur service companies and equipment suppliers to create indirect jobs, he added. Examples of the types of companies upon which LNG terminals rely on an ongoing basis include:
"The terminal labor and activities will resemble a small refinery operation and run 24/7," Hritcko concluded. "Given the oil and gas industry's labor concerns related to the 'Great Crew Change,' it's prudent to now be contemplating how the industry plans to train and develop the personnel to operate these plants."
(EDITOR'S NOTE: API has also unveiled a detailed map of approved and proposed LNG export projects. The order of pending LNG export project application reviews is available from the U.S. Department of Energy website.)
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