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Energy jobs await science students

| Monday, May 21, 2012, 10:41 p.m.

Greensburg Salem senior Parker Jorgensen, who wants to become an engineer, learned on Monday about the wide range of opportunities in the energy sector for those in his prospective field, especially with the boom in the region's natural gas industry.

"There are so many areas to get into," Jorgensen said at Keytex Energy Inc.'s scholar award and energy awareness day at the company's headquarters in Salem.

Jorgensen, a Greensburg resident who plans to attend Penn State this fall, was joined by about 10 students and teachers from the Derry Area, Greater Latrobe, Hempfield Area, Kiski Area, Mt. Pleasant Area and Yough high schools in learning about career opportunities in the energy field.

Thanks to the boom in the exploration and production of natural gas in the state's Marcellus shale reserves, students will be presented with opportunities and challenges, said Jake Stilley, vice president of Amerikohl Mining Inc. and its Patriot Exploration natural gas division. Job opportunities abound in the energy field for engineers, geologists, environmental scientists, chemists, communications professionals and offshoots into other fields such as construction, Stilley said.

The region's workforce wasn't able to meet the gas industry's needs when the Marcellus shale exploration started several years ago, so experienced industry talent had to be imported from the gas fields of Texas and Oklahoma, Stilley said.

Initiatives have been started on the local level -- through community colleges and workforce training programs -- to bring the skills of the region's workforce in line with the energy industry's demands.

"If you want to stay in Western Pennsylvania, the opportunity is here. We can send a lot of those Oklahoma license plates back home," Stilley said.

Stilley's description of the work that goes into the drilling operation to prevent damage to the environment left an impression on Greater Latrobe senior Austin Faddish, who plans to study engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

"It's mostly the media that portrays it as something harmful, when it really isn't," said Faddish, a Unity resident.

In the electrical energy field, companies such as Keytex Energy use their staff expertise to get the best electricity prices for their customers, including businesses, government and industry, said Gregory Cammerata, president of Keytex Energy.

The company has employees who trade electricity supplies for the long- and short-term, which involves "very complicated financial transactions," Cammerata said.

The prospect of trading units of electricity was new to Scott Sachs of Hempfield, a Hempfield Area senior who plans to study engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.

"I never knew about trading electric energy like stocks," Sachs said.

The information that Keytex Energy's program provided the students who excel in math and science "is an experience that we can't duplicate in the classroom," said Cindy Pompelia, who teaches advanced placement calculus and chemistry at Greater Latrobe.

Telling students about opportunities in science and math helps to inform the workforce of the future, said Michael A. Dandrea, director of sales and marketing for Keytex Energy. All of the students attending the program received a $500 stipend for college, and one student was selected for an additional $500 stipend, based on interviews with company officials.

Stilley told the students who will be entering college about experiences they should avoid. When Amerikohl was hiring workers a few years ago for jobs on drilling rigs, candidates had to pass drug tests, and that was a major issue, Stilley said.

"You have to realize there are some experiences you can't take back," Stilley said.

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