While natural gas exploration throughout Pennsylvania has stirred debate in recent years, there is one issue on which most can agree: the emergence of viable employment opportunities. The natural gas sector offers rewarding career prospects, especially for those with a technical skill set.
Those possibilities are the focus of the latest edition of “degrees that work.tv,” an award-winning documentary series produced by Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media. The episode, “Natural Gas Careers,” premieres throughout northeastern and northcentral Pennsylvania on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. on WVIA-TV.
While natural gas has been extracted for more than a century, much of the exploration targeted limited amounts of shallow gas contained in porous rock deposits just beneath the earth’s surface. The episode illustrates that advancements in technology, namely horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, have allowed companies to access vast amounts of natural gas contained in shale – dense, sedimentary rock formations that are typically a mile or more below surface.
The Marcellus Shale, located under parts of six states including approximately two-thirds of Pennsylvania, is particularly attractive for development due to its natural gas capacity and proximity to major population centers in the Northeast.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas production in the state “more than quadrupled” between 2009 and 2011. This boom has led to varied career options. The Pennsylvania Statewide Marcellus Shale Workforce Needs Assessment has estimated that the life cycle of a Marcellus well requires approximately 420 individuals across 150 different occupations.
“The natural gas industry provides high-value types of jobs, offering family-sustaining wages,” said Thomas B. Murphy, co-director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, and one of the experts featured in the episode. “I’ve been working as an outreach educator for more than 25 years, and these certainly are the most exciting years that I’ve spent in my career, seeing this energy resource development occur in Pennsylvania and in various other locations globally.”
Thanks to its extensive workforce development programming, Penn College offers numerous training and educational initiatives for the natural gas industry. Through ShaleTEC, a partnership with Penn State Extension, Penn College provides a variety of noncredit training and consulting services for incumbent natural gas professionals and those moving into the industry. As the recipient of a $14.96 million federal grant, the college is the lead institution for ShaleNET U.S., a consortium initiative that seeks to develop and standardize educational programs serving high-demand occupational categories in the oil and natural gas and associated supply-chain industries.
The college’s applied-technology curriculum provides another clear path to the industry with numerous associate and bachelor’s degrees relating to natural gas careers. For long-term growth potential and career flexibility, higher education in the form of trade/industrial certifications and two- and four-year degrees is recommended for the sector.
“The more you bring to the table, the quicker and higher you are likely to advance in your career opportunities or up the career ladder,” Murphy said.
The episode follows three diverse alumni whose bachelor’s degrees are working for them in the industry: Brandon J. Howe, class of 2001, information technology: data communications and networking (now information technology: network specialist); Douglas Martin, class of 2008, electronics engineering technology (now electronics and computer engineering technology); and Westley A. Smith, class of 2009, welding and fabrication engineering technology. Howe, senior IT systems analyst, and Martin, automation technician, are employed by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. in Williamsport. Smith is a welding engineer for Appellation Pre-Fab in Montoursville.
In addition to exploring their individual career paths and present-day duties, the episode explains the basics of natural gas drilling and production and visits a typical well site in northcentral Pennsylvania.
Following its Nov. 5 premiere at 7 p.m. on WVIA, the “Natural Gas Careers” episode of “degrees that work.tv” will be rebroadcast that evening at 10 p.m. on WVIA-2, Nov. 6 at noon on WVIA-2, Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. on WVIA and Nov. 9 at 8 a.m. on WVIA-2. The program also will be part of a “degrees that work.tv” marathon on Nov. 18. All seven “degrees that work.tv” episodes – “Nanotechnology,” “Welding,” “Advanced Manufacturing,” “Plastics,” “Going Green Part I,” “Going Green Part II” and “Natural Gas Careers” – will air on WVIA beginning at 11:30 a.m.
The “degrees that work.tv” series is a public-service initiative that connects young people to workforce needs and rewarding future career paths. Following a story-driven approach, episodes highlight the technologies, educational foundation and opportunities within career clusters. Free educational materials designed for classroom use have been developed to accompany the series.