Wanted: Drug-Free Workers

Amphetamine, Pain-Killer Use Is Hiring Hurdle in Appalachia’s oil-and-gas Boom

CARNEGIE, Pa.—Dawn Fuchs’s trucking and environmental-cleanup business are thriving, thanks mostly to a boom in natural gas drilling in western Pennsylvania. But she faces an unexpected hurdle to growth: More job applicants are failing drug tests.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find clean applicants,” said Ms. Fuchs, chief executive of Weavertown Environmental Group. About 7% of Weavertown’s applicants have been turned away in the past two years after failing screenings, roughly four times the national average for such workers.

The high rejection rate makes it difficult to keep jobs filled in an expanding industry that has frequent employee turnover due to the heavy labor involved, such as cleaning spills and other hazards at gas wells and power plants. Ms. Fuchs figures the company, which now employs about 200 people, will need to add 100 more workers in 2013 and hire others to fill vacancies caused by turnover.

In the debate about whether American workers have the right skills to fill jobs in manufacturing and growing sectors such as oil and gas extraction, failed drug tests are often an overlooked problem. But in parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia—a region undergoing an industrial transformation driven by shale gas—employers and others say widespread drug use, particularly the abuse of prescription drugs, is affecting hiring.