Petro Tech set for fall semester at WVNCC

WHEELING – While teaching petroleum technology at the University of Arkansas during the height of the Haynesville Shale rush, Curt Hippensteel did not know he would soon move to West Virginia to train students to work in the Marcellus and Utica shale fields.

When West Virginia Northern Community College begins its first full petroleum technology class Aug. 25, Hippensteel will begin teaching a new generation of potential drillers, roustabouts, floorhands and riggers how to start in the oil and natural gas fields.

With starting salaries for such jobs ranging from $35,000-$60,000 per year, Hippensteel and college Director of Economic & Workforce Development Karri Mulhern said interest in the first-year program is very high.

“I have been encouraged by hearing kids say, ‘I want to do this,'” Mulhern said. “We are getting interest from all over the place, including New York.”

The nature of work in the oil and gas fields may call for employees to travel around the nation, depending on where their particular company is drilling, fracking, pipelining or processing. However, Hippensteel and Mulhern said the chances for Upper Ohio Valley residents to gain work in the local shale fields is high.

“There is so much going on around here now that most people don’t even realize, mostly because it is out on the hillsides and ridges,” Mulhern said. “There is no reason to think you will have to leave the area for this work.”

The coursework allows students to complete a certificate program in just one year, while it also permits them to earn an associate’s degree in applied science over two years. Both tracks include courses that focus on drilling, rigging, pumping, health and safety, as well as basic computer skills. The curriculum includes hands-on training with fully functional classroom simulators and full-size outdoor simulators for drilling and production.

“This is just like any other academic program at the college,” Mulhern said. “It qualifies for financial aid.”

Tuition is $1,332 per semester at Northern. In addition to loans and and grants, some students may qualify for scholarships.

“This is a new industry, but it just looks like it will keep growing and growing,” Mulhern said. “We hope to help those who want a chance to work for the gas companies to meet their goals.”

WVNCC Dean of Community Relations Robert DeFrancis said the college worked with an advisory board to develop the curriculum. He said the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association and the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia have worked with the college, as have several companies working in the production or midstream portions of the industry.

“Many of these companies have provided direct support and funding to the petroleum technology program, including Chesapeake Energy, Dominion Resources, Noble Energy, Union Drilling, among others,” DeFrancis said.