The petrochemical industry has billions in projects on tap, but not enough workers to build them

The petrochemical industry’s struggle to find enough welders, pipefitters and skilled laborers to build the billions in new projects slated for the Gulf Coast is a problem of its own making, the head of a construction education foundation said this week.

Craft laborers require years of training to become minimally qualified and up to a decade to acquire the skills that make them top performers, but the industry has failed to consistently invest in developing that workforce, said Don Whyte, president of NCEER, which develops curriculum and assessments for construction and maintenance workers.

The industry must stop treating craft laborers as a commodity, said Whyte said in a webinar this week addressing the challenges associated with building multi-billion petrochemical projects on the Gulf Coast.

Natural Gas Leaks

One of the bigger natural gas drilling wells suffered a significant setback when it sprung a natural gas leak. All of the drilling platforms for a several mile radius had to be evacuated due to worries about possible explosions triggering similar disasters to the one from the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike 2010’s Gulf tragedy, this North Sea leak has to do with a steady leak of natural gas rather than oil. Though, as we saw last week, gas leaks can quickly lead to massive complications.

One of the large concerns with this industrial power generation accident is that a steady natural gas leak will be extremely hazardous for the environment. Natural gas is a potent greenhouse gas, significantly worse than carbon dioxide. This leak has sprung up just as natural gas has seen a resurgence. The AP recently reported that there’s actually a giant surplus of natural gas, saying, “So much natural gas is being produced that soon there may be nowhere left to put the country’s swelling surplus.” And in the UK, where this recent leak occurred, Britain is in the midst of passing a $4.8 billion tax break to dismantle oil platforms and create natural gas wells.