Students get a boost in petroleum technology - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Students get a boost in petroleum technology

Posted: Updated:
Photo courtesy of Miranda Kessel. Curt Hippensteel, program instructor, works with petroleum tech students enrolled at WV Northern Community College. Photo courtesy of Miranda Kessel. Curt Hippensteel, program instructor, works with petroleum tech students enrolled at WV Northern Community College.
Photo courtesy of Miranda Kessel. Pierpont student-interns at Noble Energy get hands-on experience at a production site in West Virginia. Photo courtesy of Miranda Kessel. Pierpont student-interns at Noble Energy get hands-on experience at a production site in West Virginia.

For students at Pierpont Community & Technical College’s Fairmont campus and West Virginia Northern Community College’s Wheeling campus, the list of programs to choose from and participate in just got slightly larger.

With the creation of the petroleum technology program, students can learn about the numerous and varied jobs within the oil and gas industry.

According to Miranda Kessel, program coordinator for both schools, the program itself is unique in many ways.

Beginning of Something New

One of the program’s unique features, Kessel said, is that it’s new.

“This is a brand new program,” she said. “Pierpont held its first classes for students in the fall of 2013 and WV Northern Community College held their first classes in the spring of 2014.”

Not only is the program new, but it also is the only petroleum technology associate degree program offered in the region, with only 14 other programs like it in the United States, she said.

The program offers a Certificate of Applied Science in Petroleum Technology or an Associate of Applied Science in Petroleum Technology, as well as a hands-on curriculum.

“The curriculum includes hands-on training with fully functional classroom simulators and full-size outdoor simulators for drilling and production,” Kessel said. “Instructors place a significant emphasis on workplace safety and employer screening requirements needed to be successful in the oil and gas industry.”

Part of the hands-on curriculum is a result of having the input and review of oil and gas companies, Jim Skidmore, chancellor of the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia, said.

“We worked with the oil and gas companies to develop the curriculum,” he said.

Between the two institutions, there are about 18 students currently in the program, said Paul Schreffler, vice-president for Workforce and Economic Development at Pierpont.

He expects the number to total 25 or more at Pierpont in the fall. Students are currently gaining in-field experience by going to well and drilling sites. In the developmental stage is a 19-acre site near Fairmont where students will gain additional in-field experience.

Incorporating an Advisory Council

In addition to a hands-on learning environment and curriculum, students in the program also enjoy the benefit of having a built-in industry advisory board.

The private-public partnership consists of various producer, midstream and services companies with operations in the Mountain State.

According to Kessel, many of the companies involved with the program have provided direct support and funding to the petroleum technology program, including Chesapeake Energy, Dominion Resources, Noble Energy and Union Drilling, among others.

Paid internships also are available at the companies through the program. Four students currently are working as summer interns for Noble Energy.

“We are currently working with recruiting a diversity of producer, midstream and service companies to host future internships,” Kessel said.

Stacey Brodak, manager of community and media relations at Noble Energy Inc., said the company is excited to welcome the four full-time summer interns working in the automation and production departments.

“As part of our partnership with Petroleum Tech, Noble Energy recently welcomed four students to our first summer cooperative program,” Brodak said. “The interns are working full-time in our automation and production departments gaining hands-on field experience.

“All are knowledgeable and enthusiastic and share our team’s focus on safety. We look forward to growing the program.”

Origins of the Program

According to Kessel, the program was developed with the collaborative efforts among industry, government and education leaders, with the program receiving initial and ongoing feedback by an industry advisory board consisting of member companies of W.Va. Independent Oil and Gas Association and the W.Va. Natural Gas Association. In May 2013, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the West Virginia Community & Technical College System announced the creation of the Appalachian Petroleum Technology Training Center and Petroleum Technology Program to address workforce needs of the growing oil and gas industry within the Mountain State.

Not only is the program beneficial to the students, but also West Virginia, Kessel said.

“We’re giving young people the opportunity to stay in West Virginia and have high-paying jobs with long-term career potential,” she said. “The natural resources sector, specifically natural gas production, has been the largest contributor to statewide net job growth in recent years.

“According to the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research, this growth is expected to continue its rapid rise over the next four years.”

More than 3,200 jobs were added in the natural gas sector from 2002-2012 in West Virginia, she said.

Two important aspects of creating the program is providing high-wage and high-skill jobs and a qualified pool of applicants for oil and gas companies to choose from, Skidmore said.

“The community is excited that we can train and educate West Virginians,” he said.

Types of Jobs Abound

With the program providing a direct pipeline to more than 40 various jobs and disciplines within the oil and gas industry, options abound.

The jobs are primarily composed of technician-level positions for: compression, lab, measurement, tachometer, flowback, disposal/water handling, geophysical, completions, site preparation and rigging and load handling, roustabouts, floor-hands, pressure-pumping and well servicers, pumpers, lease operators, well tenders, completions and cementing crew and/or operator, supply and rental sales, manufacturing representatives and associate to various engineer disciplines, geologists and health safety and environmental managers.

The deadline for enrolling this fall at Pierpont and WV Northern Community College is early August, with new students able to enter the program in the fall or spring semester. Although tuition varies at each institution, Kessel said it ranges from $1,800-$2,200 per semester. Financial aid assistance is available and some students may be eligible for tuition-grants and scholarships.