SALEM - When drill-site operations heat up, oil and gas drillers work two weeks on duty and two weeks off.
When they're on, they don't leave the worksite.
So they need a place to stay and that's where companies like Wolf Pack Rental Services earn their keep.
Scott Heater is the Ohio manager for Wolfpack Rentals which supplies housing and a number of other rental support services to the oil and gas drilling industry. The company is located on state Route 165 and keeps a 24/7 operation running. Heater, a West Virginian and a big West Virginia University Mountaineer fan, has been in the Salem area for a year as the geology of the shale boom moves companies westward from Pennsylvania. (Salem News photo by Larry Shields)
The company is headquartered in Houston and has been moving equipment into Ohio from Pennsylvania.
If oil and gas drill sites are anything, plain and simple, they're 24/7 from the first turn of the drill bit.
So big mobile houses are lined up inside the gate on a portion of property that used to be Quaker City Dragway on state Route 165.
Today, Dan Swindell, who retained the land when he sold the drag strip, leases potions of property just west of the race track to three companies spearheading shale boom support operations in this area.
One company is the Wolfpack Rentals Ohio Division managed by Scott Heater that runs a nine-person operation renting out topline 14-foot by 72-foot mobile housing units.
The houses, that are relocated to the drill site as needed, provide the oilmen and women all the comforts of home.
Surprisingly roomy, they are heavily insulated against noise and weather and call to mind a portable efficiency apartment except they're furnished with two and three bedrooms equipped with queen-sized beds.
The houses feature two complete bathrooms with glassed-in showers, office space, full kitchens, washers and dryers, 32-inch flat screen televisions in the bedrooms, and surprisingly, a living room as big as a ... living room.
Heater, 32, a West Virginian and big West Virginia University Mountaineer fan, has been with Wolfpack for two years and in the Mahoning Valley for exactly a year.
He says Wolfpack is at the top of the housing rentals.
"We provide the best equipment , it's superior," he said, pointing out the houses are built with two-by-sixes instead of two-by-fours to sustain heavier walls.
There are 61 Wolfpack houses in the Ohio Division and 55 are on drilling locations in Mahoning, Columbiana, Stark, Carroll, Jefferson and Harrison counties, Heater said, adding they are all on Chesapeake Exploration drill sites.
He expects that number to climb to 100 while adding 10 more employees next year.
That's when things should really be taking off, he said.
When the call arrives a house can be prepared and delivered in a day. A long, crack-of-dawn day.
It usually comes three to five days before housing is needed on site.
"First we get Ohio Department of Transportation approval and route permits from the old to the new site," Heater explained.
That takes about 20 minutes and is accomplished by computers at both ends.
The actual move takes more than just hooking up a couple of 14-foot by 72-foot houses to semis and moving out.
Heater explained the houses are "geared down" and anything inside that moves is secured.
The support system for the houses includes a portable, potable water source with 3,400 gallons, a 150-240KW diesel-powered generator for electric power along with a 240V transformer with hook-ups for 12 houses and a Direct TV connection.
Just in the generator and transformer alone, you're looking at upwards of $80- to $90K in equipment.
At the drill site the houses are lined against an outside perimeter to the left of the entrance, parallel to the fence and set up.
"Sometimes they're in an "L" shape," he said, adding there is 250 feet of electric cord per house.
Heater said the houses are "turn key" for whoever uses it when they're done.
"We become a landlord," he said, explaining that any problems, electric outages, plumbing are handled on a "we get right on it" basis.
"That goes with the image," he said.
"In my business," Heater explained, "if you don't provide service, they'll just get someone else. They trust me. If not, then I just set myself up to fail.
"You've got to get these people to trust you and build a relationship. That's what it's all about .... hard work ... friendship."
He said three houses use two portable water conexes along with wastes disposals that are sub-contracted out by the driller.
The houses are used by the site supervisors or "company men," usually two people to are in charge of the drilling, a tool pusher who comes with the rig and "mud loggers" and crew members or "rig hands" who, Heater said, do the grunt work on the rig and moving the pipe into the ground.
The drilling rigs are usually provided by other companies like Nomac which drills for Chesapeake Exploration and is owned by Chesapeake and employs tool pushers.
There are four-man teams that head up the directional drilling and then the "mud engineers" who keep a close, round-the-clock eye on the drilling.
"They usually work two weeks on and two weeks off," Heater said.
Good rig hands can make over six figures a year, according to one oil and gas company official.
For more information, visit www.wolfpackenergy.com.
Larry Shields can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org