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Natural Gas Applied Technology and Safety Training Center Planned

Pennsylvania College of Technology and the Lycoming County Department of Public Safety are taking the first steps to create the Natural Gas Applied Technology and Safety Training Center, a training site for local emergency responders and industry personnel who would respond to gas-field emergencies in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania.

The permanent, comprehensive training facility will be located on approximately 5 acres at Penn College’s Schneebeli Earth Science Center near Allenwood and would include field-activity areas with gas industry “props” such as a training rig, tanks, separators, hydraulic fracturing equipment and a wellhead.

Penn College President Davie Jane Gilmour said the college is at the forefront of providing state-of-the-art educational programs to prepare individuals to compete for jobs in the growing gas industry in northcentral Pennsylvania.

“We have established an excellent reputation for developing and delivering industry-specific training programs,” Gilmour said. “This center is the next logical step to support the training needs of the natural gas industry.”

“The vision for this facility,” said Craig Konkle, operations and training supervisor for Lycoming County, “is to provide trainees (including firefighters, state and local police, industry personnel, and students) with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with potential well-site emergencies, including those involving the hazards of highly flammable liquids and rescuing workers trapped in or on equipment.”

Konkle said the initiative would enable firefighters trained in conventional methods to gain the skills needed to deal with unique challenges and hazards posed by natural gas emergencies. Many of these challenges were realized following a training exercise with the industry in the fall of 2009.

“This program will be the first of its kind in the state,” Konkle said.

The training program will be similar to those pioneered in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Texas, with a typical course featuring classroom training and hands-on activities, including participation in various firefighting scenarios.

Penn College already has received a variety of industry commitments in support of the Natural Gas Applied Technology and Safety Training Center initiative. The commitments include monetary donations, as well as equipment and additional well-site “props” needed for training.

Tracy L. Brundage, managing director of workforce development and continuing education at Penn College, said the new program is critical to ensure the safety and well-being of those who work in the industry, as well as the general population.

“With so much drilling activity taking place, this program is critical to make sure that emergency personnel are adept at responding to any and all situations,” Brundage said. “It will also give those working in the industry a strong, safety-first foundation that complements the needs of the industry.”

The Marcellus Shale Coalition and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association have been strong supporters of the development of the facility. Ralph Tijerina, chairman of the MSC’s Safety Committee, said the committee worked closely with Penn College to leverage the necessary resources to develop a state-of-the-art training facility that meets the needs of the natural gas industry.

“The absence of such formal training for emergency responders in Pennsylvania was a critical issue that needed to be addressed,” Tijerina said. “But what will make this facility unique, is that it will provide this kind of training to all sorts of industry personnel.”

The Marcellus Shale Workforce Resource Center, located within Penn College’s Center for Business & Workforce Development, provides a centralized location for industry, students and the public to obtain information regarding Marcellus Shale workforce-development initiatives.

The center includes the Marcellus Shale Education & Training Center featuring participation from Penn College and Penn State Cooperative Extension which has provided workforce development, assessment and training services since 2008. The MSETC has completed several workforce assessments and has trained more than 1,000 people in natural gas-related courses.

Also operating at the center is ShaleNET (Eastern Region Hub), supported by a $4.96 million U.S. Department of Labor grant and funding recruitment, training and job placement across the Marcellus Shale footprint. As part of a three-year ShaleNET initiative, Penn College and Westmoreland County Community College have collaborated to develop, standardize and coordinate training courses for those seeking employment in the natural gas industry.

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