Anxiety, hope mingle at energy expo

Photo by Dean HumphreyAmy Zmolik of EnCana explains the advantages of natural gas-powered vehicles at the company’s booth at the EnCana Energy Expo in Rifle at Grafield County Fairgrounds on Wednesday. Zmolik said the Honda Civic in the foreground is built so it can use compressed natural gas, which sells for a a third less than regular gasoline and burns much cleaner, according to EnCana.

RIFLE — The ink is barely dry on the process technology diploma that Rifle resident Theresa Fontenette earned from Colorado Mountain College, and she already wishes she had picked a career other than the energy industry.

“I do. I’m not going to sit here and lie, I really do,” Fontenette said Wednesday as she roamed the exhibit hall at the EnCana Energy Expo at the Garfield County Fairgrounds.

Although companies have been hiring again after last year’s drilling slowdown, Fontenette said they’re looking for experienced people.

At a nearby booth, Joe Sanders, sales manager with Maverick Stimulation Co. LLC, said his oil field services company has been hiring, but the key is finding qualified people. He said having to lay off good employees last year has been made worse by the fact some of them since have gone to work elsewhere, including outside the industry, and aren’t available for rehire.

“We’d love to have some of them back,” he said.

Tim Gibbs, executive director of industry and work force development at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely, said visitors to his booth at this year’s expo showed increasing interest in education beyond the energy development.

“We’ve had a lot of people asking about a lot of other things as well,” he said.

Even within the energy field, they’ve inquired a lot about programs such as power plant production, which tends to provide more job stability than energy development, he said.

Jon Black, local operations manager for energy developer Antero Resources, said he had a lot of people ask him Wednesday when more drilling rigs would be returning to the area. He said he feels for the community.

“Everybody’s got a wife, kids and a bank manager to support,” Black said.

Doug Wright, who works in purchasing for Brad’s Electrical, a New Castle company that services drilling rigs, said his company has spread out more to other states, easing the blow of local rigs departing.

“It keeps the business rolling through the slow period,” Wright said.

EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) spokesman Doug Hock said people at this year’s expo seemed less on edge about the industry than in 2009.

“I think people are a little more optimistic this year,” he said.

Hock said the EnCana event’s primary purpose is community education. About 1,000 people had stopped by as of mid-afternoon Wednesday. The expo has become such a success that EnCana now offers similar events in other states.


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