Posts Tagged ‘Keystone College’

NEPA schools preparing workers for jobs in gas-drilling industry

Published: June 28, 2010

With the boom in Marcellus Shale natural gas development throughout the region, area educational institutions are growing to keep up with work force demands.

New training, certification and degree programs are being created at local schools to ensure local job skills are tailored to white- and blue-collared job needs related to the natural gas drilling industry.

Already, Lackawanna College and Johnson College in Scranton, Keystone College in LaPlume and the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport represent the growing trend of educational institutions offering course work and the hands-on training needed to become employable in one of Pennsylvania’s growing industries.

And, college administrators agree the reason for the trend is simple: There’s a demand for it by both the industry and potential workers who want the training and the jobs that come with it.

An industry-financed study conducted by Penn State’s department of energy and mineral engineering, which offers an undergraduate degree in natural gas engineering, expected Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction efforts to create more than 200,000 jobs in the state and have an overall $18 billion economic impact by this year.

“Marcellus Shale is going to be big business,” said Christopher Kucharski, Lackawanna College spokesman. “Problem is there is just nobody trained to handle the positions they want filled.”

It appears a change is under way.

Larry Milliken, director of Lackawanna College’s energy program and a natural gas instructor, just finished guiding the first class of 18 students through its first year of study to earn an associate degree in natural gas technology.

Based at the college’s New Milford campus in the center of the action near gas fields in Susquehanna County, the program is preparing students for well tender jobs – a position that requires monitoring and maintaining natural gas wells during their lengthy production phase.

There is generally one well tender employed for every 20 to 40 natural gas wells, Mr. Milliken said, and the entry-level annual salary is $36,000. Sixteen students have paid internships with natural gas drilling companies this summer in western Pennsylvania, he added.

“The industry has been very supportive of wanting to get (our students) on board,” he said. The college also is hiring three additional instructors this year to accommodate the increase in students who have enrolled in the natural gas technology degree program for the 2010-11 school year.

At Lackawanna College’s new campus in Hawley, college administrators recently announced a new certificate course for fall centered on training accounting assistants, accounting clerks and administrative assistants specifically for the oil and gas industry.

Tracy Brundage, managing director of work force development at Pennsylvania College of Technology, said administrators decided to take the leap into offering natural gas drilling-related courses this year. The decision followed an in-house study that determined growing employment opportunities because of the prevalence of natural gas development under way in the region.

“The jobs are going to be around for a long time,” Ms. Brundage said. “We’re just getting started … to get our arms around what is happening … and how we need to respond.”

Pennsylvania College of Technology has just begun offering training and certification classes in welding specialized for the industry’s infrastructure and commercial driver’s license classes, and has tweaked some of its academic majors – including diesel and electrical technology – to include natural gas drilling-related coursework.

So far, about 350 students have enrolled in the non-degree programs.

The college plans to expand its offerings, perhaps to include training for natural gas well operators and emergency response technicians, Ms. Brundage said.

Keystone College, known for its focus on the liberal arts, is also jumping on board.

Robert Cook, Ph.D., the college’s environmental resource management program coordinator, said the college will be offering a handful of new courses early next year that include mapping underground natural resources tied specifically to natural gas.

The environmental resource management degree, a four-year Bachelor of Science, has had its “highest level of interest this year” in part because of the Marcellus Shale boom and an expectation that jobs will be available for graduates, Dr. Cook said. The degree, which includes environmental law courses, can also prepare a would-be environmental regulator, he added.

“It’s clear energy is going to be an important subject for decades,” said Dr. Cook, a professional geologist. “It’s thrilling to see our discipline become an important skill set.”

Keystone is also hiring a new instructor to teach undergraduate courses within a new natural gas and petroleum resource curriculum that is now under development.

Marie Allison, director of continuing education at Johnson College, said the college will be offering its first class in pipe welding next week tailored to techniques needed by the natural gas industry. The college also will offer a class for advanced welders to prepare for certification in a specific style of welding demanded by the industry.

The college’s welding program had been defunct since 2001, because of declining enrollment, but the multitude of pipes and fittings that will be laid by the industry in the coming years yields greater demand for skilled welders, she said.

“They need welders,” Ms. Allison said. “We want to give someone the fundamentals and give them the opportunity to find a job.”

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Copyright:  The Scranton Times

Some colleges add programs to train workers

By Andrew M.
Times Leader Staff Writer

The landscape of the state’s northern tier is changing as natural gas drillers set up shop from the Poconos west to Tioga County.

The burgeoning industry also is bringing change to the curricula at some local colleges hoping to capitalize on the need for a skilled and trained work force.

Lackawanna College in Scranton and Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport have launched programs specifically catering to those interested in securing employment in the natural gas and ancillary fields. Other schools, including Johnson College and Keystone College, are investigating courses to prepare students for jobs in the industry.

When the industry made initial steps to move in to the region, Lackawanna College got in on the ground floor.

“Our goal was to try to find a niche where we could train people for jobs they could find here,” said Larry D. Milliken, director of energy programs at the college. The school, with input from the industry, created an applied science degree in Oil and Gas Production Technology program in December 2008.

The school asked Milliken, a former gas company employee with a background as an economic geologist who lives in Dunmore, to help with the program.

He sees great potential for the field and the creation of jobs, as companies look to tap into the gas supplies within the Marcellus Shale, a layer of gas-laden rock about a mile underground across most of Pennsylvania.

“I’m not sure most people realize the magnitude of what the Marcellus can mean and do for the state. … It’s going to be a huge game changer in Pennsylvania.”

Milliken said he sees hundreds of immediate jobs and the potential for thousands more as a result of gas drilling.

As an example, he said one well tender will be needed for every 20 wells that come on line. This year alone, he said, more than 1,000 wells are anticipated to be drilled and that number should double next year. This will mean 50 to 100 new well-tender jobs will be created every year for the next 20 years, he projects.

To prepare potential employees for those jobs, Lackawanna College offers an associate’s degree in natural gas technology and is developing an operating and maintenance degree program in compression technology that could debut next fall.

In addition, the college will soon start giving accounting students at its Towanda Center the option of customizing their degree to prepare them to work in the accounting side of the natural gas industry, Milliken said.

Milliken said Lackawanna relied heavily on curricula and course work offered by established programs at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs, Wyo.; North Central Texas College in Gainesville, Texas, and Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. Using that material, Lackawanna created an outline for its own potential programs and sent it to 10 gas companies “for feedback and modifications before settling in on our own curriculum.”

At the moment, the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport is the only other place to get industry-specific training. The school has partnered with the Penn State Cooperative Extension to create The Marcellus Shale Education & Training Center.

Opened in 2008, the center will identify the industry’s work force needs and respond with education tracks that train people for those jobs. Careers include welders, construction workers, drivers and machine operators and fabricators.Tracy Brundage, the school’s managing director of the Workforce Development and Continuing Education programs, said that as the landscape of the Northern Tier changes, so too do course offerings at the college.

She said input from energy companies has been influential in the design of 21 new courses, including those through the Fit 4 Natural Gas program developed by work force development boards in more than a dozen Northern Tier counties using Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry funds.

Officials from Lackawanna College also lauded the affiliations and assistance offered by gas companies.

“They’ve been very active,” Milliken said.

Last week, Chesapeake Energy donated $50,000 to help Lackawanna College expand its Natural Gas Technology Program at its New Milford Center campus in Susquehanna County. The college plans to use the money for capital-equipment costs in fitting out their new facilities for the program that began last fall.

“We’ve been an eager partner in these efforts,” said Brian Grove, director of corporate development for Chesapeake Energy.

Milliken said that in the short time the program’s been up and running at Lackawanna, the partnership has seen tremendous interest from potential students and positive feedback from the industry.

The companies reflected praise for the two-way-street relationship it has with the local schools.

Grove said “crafting an effective educational infrastructure will benefit the community far beyond its borders by equipping locals with skills they can market within the industry. A highly skilled work force is critical to our success as a company and the community’s long-term economic success as well.”

Brundage said that while the program at Penn Tech is still “in its infancy,” she, too, feels confident that the college’s programs have progressed nicely in a short period of time. “I think we’ve positioned ourselves pretty well with the industry. We’re not going to be able to meet all of their needs but we can help with a lot of them,” Brundage said.

So far 65 students have taken a course, including 14 who have completed welding courses. One course was created specifically at the request of the gas industry.

“They told us what they need as far as some of the welding components, so we aligned some things internally to meet those needs,” Brundage said.

Wendy J. Wiedenbeck, a spokeswoman for Denver-based EnCana Oil and Gas, said it’s too early to discuss her company’s needs because it is still in the exploratory stages. The company is looking at drilling specifically in Luzerne County.

“If we are successful and determine we would like to develop additional wells in the area, an important first step will be to understand what work-force development programs already exist in the area and how the curriculum aligns with business needs,” she said.

“New curriculum and training programs often come into existence after we’ve been operating in an area for some time,” Wiedenbeck added. “They evolve from the relationships we build along the way and are very much the result of a collaborative approach. In areas where we have established operations, we’ve collaborated with local colleges to create or build upon programs that help community members build the skills needed to compete for industry jobs.”

Andrew M. Seder, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 570-829-7269.

Copyright: Times Leader

Gas leasing explored once more Notes from the Countryside With Mary Felley

Gas leasing! When I first wrote about this in May last year, lease prices were “up to several hundred dollars an acre.” When I did an update in December, prices “as high as $800” were said to be offered. Now $2,500 an acre is thought to be a reasonable price. Who knows how high it may go? Statewide, speculation about the most promising part of the Marcellus Shale is being directed solidly toward northeastern Pennsylvania.

The issues I mentioned in my first article are still valid concerns: clearing of trees and vegetation at the drilling site and for access roads; noise, lights, and vehicle and human traffic during the drilling process; and the risk of water supply interruption or contamination. Several water-related issues have come into higher prominence since then: the source and disposal of the water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) a gas well, and the removal and disposal of solid and liquid wastes from the well site.

Representatives of land trusts from around the state, including Countryside Conservancy, met in Harrisburg in mid-June to learn more about the Marcellus Shale gas resource, how it will be developed, and how gas extraction can coexist with conservation. The conference organizer, the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association (, has indicated that they will soon post information from this meeting on their website.

As a land trust, the Countryside Conservancy is dedicated to land and water conservation. We are not opposed to exploration and extraction of natural gas, but we want to ensure that the process does not damage natural resources of conservation value. To that end, we are working hard to educate ourselves about the pros and cons of gas development, and we urge landowners to do the same.

At the moment, one of the more accessible information resources for landowners is the Penn State Cooperative Extension website ( It contains information, publications, links to lawyers, CPAs, energy companies and more. The Extension does not recommend the services of anyone referred to on their website, but it is a place to start.

If you are a landowner considering leasing your gas rights, you will NOT want to sign any lease you are given by a gas or leasing company. There are many provisions that may need to be added to a lease to protect you, your land and your finances. A small sampling of things that you may want your lease to dictate, beyond leasing rates and royalties: removal of waste materials from the site; bearing the costs of Clean and Green or other tax penalties; lease extension clauses; permitting gas storage and transmission in addition to extraction; “shut-in” or “holding by production” clauses; defining the primary vs. secondary term of the lease; controlling the number of wells permitted on a property; timber payment for any trees removed; use of ponds as a water source; testing and protection of drinking water supply; the “Pugh Clause”; the landowner’s right to audit the operator’s production data; and landowner indemnification. This is not a comprehensive list, just an illustration that leases are complex legal documents.

Our #1 advice remains: talk to a lawyer who has experience in this field. You do not want to sign any important legal document that may change your land forever without having a lawyer on your side.

Also, get your well water tested. In fact, even if you are not leasing but your neighbors are, it is an excellent idea to test your water supply so that you will have pre-drilling baseline data. The testing needs to be done by a DEP-certified lab in order to be admissible for legal purposes. You can visit the Department of Environmental Protection website ( for a list of approved labs and other information (search under “Energy,” then “oil and gas wells”).

We at the Conservancy are not geologists or gas-rights lawyers, but we are dedicated to helping landowners make the best decisions for their land. We will do our best to put landowners in touch with people who can provide sound advice.

I can’t do better than quote the disclaimer on the Penn State Cooperative Extension web site: This information is for educational purposes only. The information posted here is NOT to be considered as legal advice. Consult a qualified attorney before signing anything!

Last call for the Countryside Conservancy’s 9th Annual Auction! The Auction takes place Saturday, July 12 on the green at Keystone College and tickets are still available. The party starts at 6 pm. Call 945-6995 now to reserve your place!

Mary Felley is the Executive Director of the Countryside Conservancy. Contact her at 945-6995 or

Copyright: Times Leader