FAIRMONT - With the proper training, people can earn starting annual salaries ranging from $60,000-$100,000 working in natural gas drilling fields.
Beginning in the fall semester inside its new building at the corner of 16th and Market streets in downtown Wheeling, West Virginia Northern Community College will provide this training by offering a two-year associate degree and a one-year certificate program in the field of petroleum technology.
The program is part of the Appalachian Petroleum Technology Training Center announced by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday in Fairmont. West Virginia Northern will partner with Pierpont Community and Technical College to develop the work force.
DRILLING DEGREES TO BE OFFERED— Jim Skidmore, chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System, left, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin look on during a Wednesday announcement. - Casey Junkins
Helping to make the center possible is a $250,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, as well as $70,000 in grants from oil and natural gas companies.
"As the development of the Marcellus shale continues to expand, this center will help our community and technical colleges meet the training demands of this growing sector," said Martin J. Olshinsky, president of WVNCC.
A key component of the program will be the indoor drilling simulation laboratories, which both WVNCC and Pierpont will feature, in addition to classroom training.
There also will be an outdoor drilling simulation station in Fairmont for students to use.
"The programs offered through the center will provide a mechanism for more West Virginians to get the training they need to secure a high-paying, high-skilled job in the oil and gas industry," said James Skidmore, chancellor of the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia, which developed the course work.
Recognizing WVNCC's location and student body, college Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development Michael Koon said the program is open to all students, regardless of the state in which they live. He said the cost of the program will be whatever the college's regular tuition rate ends up being for the new academic year, adding that students will be able to use federal Pell Grant money for the petroleum training.
"We feel the program offers a wide enough variety of course work that it should allow you to get your foot in the door," Koon said, adding students will be subject to drug testing as part of their application process.
Officials said they formulated the program with input from natural gas producers such as Chesapeake Energy, Consol Energy, EQT Corp., HG Energy and Noble Energy; processing and transportation company Dominion Resources; and international oilfield services giant Schlumberger.
"I'm thankful for the industry's collaboration during the development of this much-needed program and look forward to congratulating the first class of graduates," Tomblin said.
R. Dennis Xander, president of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said "this is the most exciting time in my four decades in this industry" regarding the potential of Marcellus and Utica shale drilling.
Corky Demarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said, "Having more skilled workers will make West Virginia even more attractive to industries that operate in this highly competitive regional market."
For information regarding enrollment in WVNCC's program, call (304) 214-8975.