The natural gas industry in Pennsylvania could need to fill nearly 31,000 jobs to keep up with growing shale development in the state over the next three years, according to a recent report.

The statewide workforce assessment study by the Pennsylvania College of Technology and the Penn State Cooperative Extension is projecting a 60% increase in new wells through 2014, requiring between 18,596 and 30,684 direct jobs and between 9,800 and 15,900 entirely new positions.

The study only considers the jobs required to develop and bring wells into production, estimating that each well requires a workforce of around 420 people across 150 different occupations.

That figure can fluctuate based on development strategies, though, because while multi-well pads reduce surface disturbances, they also require about 25% fewer workers, according to the report.

And because more than 98% of all industry jobs come in the pre-drilling and drilling phases, much of the workforce for any given project won’t be needed once all the wells have been drilled and associated infrastructure is built. However, those jobs could move to new drilling locations.

The study estimated its drilling totals using well and rig count projections gathered from industry surveys, but the groups said they used no industry funds to compile the assessment.

Although the groups have previously estimated workforce needs on a regional level in Pennsylvania, the new study is the first attempt to quantify how many jobs will be needed across the entire state. The idea is to give policymakers and the public a way to prepare for growth.

Still, looking regionally, the study found that early job growth in northeastern Pennsylvania should continue, but at a “relatively moderate rate,” while job growth in southwestern Pennsylvania should be “significant” as companies develop wells and build out the infrastructure for liquids-rich gas processing needed for the Upper Devonian, Marcellus and Utica Shales present in the region.

Northwestern Pennsylvania, home to limited development to date, should see more wells in the next few years, while southeastern Pennsylvania should see an uptick in service industry jobs.

And while early employment relied heavily on skilled workers from outside the state, the study found that Pennsylvania residents now make up as much as 75% of all new hires in the industry.

By considering only the direct employment needs, and by looking into the future, rather than the present, the study differentiates itself from other recent employment and economic impact studies.

For instance, after a Pennsylvania Department of Labor report estimated that the shale industry hired 48,000 people in 2010, the Keystone Research Center noted that those hires resulted in less than 10,000 actual new jobs (see Shale Daily, June 23). And after the Marcellus Shale Coalition projected that shale development supported 140,000 jobs in 2010, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center challenged the figure because it included “indirect and induced” jobs unrelated to shale but impacted by development, such as hotels and restaurants (see Shale Daily, July 22).