Local educators look to prep students for Marcellus shale jobs

| Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012

With questions about potential taxation and environmental impact making most of the headlines on the Marcellus shale front, local educators instead are focused on preparing generations of workers for an industry that has 390 million years in the making and decades left to run its course.

Administrators of the McKeesport Area Career and Technology Center and Steel Center Vocational Technical School recently expressed their opinions that it's time to think about Marcellus shale industry-specific lessons at the secondary level.

With the public education site visits of Leadership Pittsburgh XXVIII focused on workforce development, program participants heard perspectives on career education during Jan. 12 stops at McKeesport Area School District and Steel Center, among other schools in the Greater Pittsburgh region.

McKeesport Area superintendent Dr. Timothy Gabauer spoke about a local economy once driven entirely by steel. And while today's business sphere is multi-faceted, there's an obvious trend of industrial growth in fields that serve Marcellus drilling projects.

Gabauer referenced U.S. Steel's Tubular Division, which recently reopened its McKeesport plant for the sole purpose of manufacturing tubular products for the Marcellus shale industry.

Across the Youghiogheny River into Port Vue and across the Monongahela into Duquesne, Dura-Bond Industries is coating and storing pipes for gas transmission.

And back in McKeesport, Christy Park Industries has upped the percentage of its pressure vessels being used for gas shipping from Marcellus shale drilling sites.

"If this is happening right in our back yard, and we know it's all around us, how do we potentially train some of our students from this level and get our students ready to move?" he said. "It makes sense to us."

To quickly prepare workers for the Marcellus shale drilling boom, training programs have been offered regionally through the Community College of Allegheny County, Community College of Westmoreland County and Steel Center's adult education program.

With the placement rate of students enrolled in Steel Center's "Certified Natural Gas & Oil Facility Technician" adult education course falling near 100 percent, newly appointed director Kevin Rice said it's clear the industry is pulling workers from the region.

Those writing the curriculum for secondary-level courses at Steel Center are in constant contact with industry leaders who offer input and give real work experience to students.

Rice said the school soon will reach out to companies related to the Marcellus shale industry to develop courses that are appropriate for high school-aged students.

Industry experts project decades of work " in terms of pre-drilling, drilling and production phases " will come from accessing the Devonian-age Marcellus shale bank's natural gas stores to their fullest potential.

The shale sits underground from New Jersey to Ohio, from Virginia to the Canadian border.

According to a National Park Service geological report issued in 2008, the second year of Marcellus shale drilling, marketable shale drilling areas were estimated to cover about 31 million acres.

That area was thought to hold 1.9 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas in 2002; but by 2006, that estimate increased dramatically to 31 trillion cubic feet.

In July, the Marcellus Shale Coalition released an industry report that showed current trends poising the Marcellus shale formation to be the leading supplier of natural gas within the United States within the decade.

"The Pennsylvania Marcellus Natural Gas Industry: Status, Economic Impact and Future Potential," as the study was called, projected that Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale has the potential to produce 17.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, which translates to 6.4 trillion cubic feet annually and represents nearly one-quarter of America's annual natural gas production, according to U.S. Department of Energy estimates.

With that study 2011 year-end projections put Pennsylvania in production of nearly 3.5 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas, making the commonwealth a net exporter of natural gas in today's economy " a development that Marcellus Shale Coalition researchers report could support more than 156,000 jobs and generate $12.8 billion in economic activity in Pennsylvania alone.

The study projected that by 2020, Marcellus development could support 256,420 jobs and generate $20 billion in the Pennsylvania economy.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition website, www.marcelluscoalition.org , offers profiles of industry jobs, including everything from compressor operators who maintain natural gas compressors and equipment to roustabouts who perform pipe-fittings and other mechanical tasks.

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