Pa. company booms from fracking-related business

    The natural gas drilling boom has brought enormous growth to a pipeline company in Pittston, Pa.

    This story was produced by StateImpact – Pennsylvania, a collaboration between WITFWHYY and NPR.

    The political push in favor of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania rests on this hopeful assumption: Money will pour into the state and bring jobs and tax revenue. That assumption hasn’t yet proved itself, but one Pittston company is hitting it big already.

    While other businesses are grappling with the recession, Linde Corporation is building a gleaming new headquarters, complete with backlit walls made with marble imported from Turkey. It also boasts Zebra-tiled marble from Brazil with onyx trim, skylights, large windows looking out onto the Endless Mountains, an atrium with glass flooring, and marble window sills.

    What gives Linde this Midas touch? Pipelines, and lots of them.

    Scott Linde started Linde Corporation 1971 and was among the first to catch the fracking wave a few years ago.

    “Right now, they’re plowing ahead to do it,” he said. “They’ve got the wells; they need the infrastructure. [Deposits] haven’t been fracked because they don’t have a way to get their commodity to market.”

    Linde’s company, originally in Honesdale, Pa., got its first real boost back in 1972, when Hurricane Agnes hit northeastern Pennsylvania, destroying much of the area’s infrastructure. Then came the Clean Water Act: More pipelines needed. When the big box distribution warehouses moved in near Wilkes Barre, along Interstates 80, 81 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Northeast Extension, the retail complexes needed plumbing. Once again, Linde was at the right place at the right time. Then, in 2007, just before the recession hit, Linde got a tip: Pay attention to something called the “Marcellus Shale.”

    “Actually, one of the main reasons we got involved this early, within six months, is that two of my partners and good friends, we go fishing, live up there and fly around. They said, ‘Scott, there’s something happening up there.'”

    These days, the towering Linde has actually doubled his business. Just last year, he says, his company laid 50 miles of pipe for the gas industry. Some pipes take the gas from the well to a major transmission line. Other pipes carry the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water needed to drill a well and extract the gas.

    Winters were once a quiet time for Linde’s company, as government contracts dried up. No more. Now he’s so busy – year-round – he can barely describe it:

    “What’s changed is we’ve moved from the public sector to the private sector,” he said. “For years, for example in the coal valleys, we’d wait until the interstate comes through, and we would work more seasonably.”

    Linde says he has more than doubled his workforce from 125 people to about 300. He pays between $15 and $30 an hour. He’s standing in his new Pittston warehouse, next to the new headquarters. The warehouse has heated floors to protect both workers and equipment through the winter months.

    Walking among some equipment, Linde points out highlights: “These are excavators; they’re the heart of the pipeline business. These weigh about 35 metric tons, which are the biggest you can move without taking it apart. We have 18 now. We only had four last year.”

    Linde gets this ditch-digging equipment cheap on the Internet from other areas of the country where the housing market has crashed.

    While others limp through tough times, Linde and his company keep growing.

    He expects the Marcellus Shale gas rush to continue to grow for the next 10 years, and then last another 20.

    “It’s big,” he said. “We’re in the plumbing business with big tools and we have bet everything that it’s going to be busy.”

    In northeastern Pennsylvania the gas industry is very busy. Jobless rates are falling in the three northern-tier counties where drilling is heavy: Bradford, Tioga and Susquehanna. In each, unemployment has dropped at least eight-tenths of a point in the last year. In each of these rural counties, joblessness is well below the state rate of 8 percent.

    However, this overheated growth has environmentalists and some residents worried about the public health and ecological impact of natural gas drilling. Linde thinks proper regulation can minimize the damage. And he says the gas industry can afford to provide clean water to those residents who now have contaminated wells. After all, he’s gone 150 percent over budget on some projects, and the drillers didn’t blink an eye.

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