Tribune-Review: WCCC Wants to Expand Drilling Program

By Kari Andren, TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Jeff Wennersten, 42, of North Huntingdon said he chose to retrain for a job in the natural gas industry after serving in the Navy and working for years in sales. “I just don’t want to rely on other people and other sources of energy,” he said. “We have the abundance here. Let’s utilize it, create jobs. It’s great for the state of Pennsylvania. I’m just proud to be a part of it.”

Westmoreland County Community College is seeking a federal career training grant for about $16 million to expand its job training program for the Marcellus shale industry, officials said on Wednesday.

The ShaleNet consortium aims to link students and workers to training programs at WCCC and to jobs within the natural gas industry, said Byron Kohut, director of ShaleNet Western Hub.

Grant funds would help the school develop a hybrid classroom and online curriculum and create “stackable” credentials, putting students on a fast track to earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, he said.

New programs would include petroleum technology and pipeline automation, with other areas of training still to be decided, Kohut said.

The school hasn’t settled on a grant request, due in May, but it likely will ask for about $16 million, he said. WCCC applied for a $12.5 million grant last year but was rejected.

ShaleNet provides needed training for the Marcellus shale industry in a region rich with natural gas, making it an ideal recipient for Department of Labor funding, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. said yesterday during a news conference at the campus.

Speaking to a “floorhand” class, which trains students for entry-level gas rig jobs, Casey said the Labor Department should award WCCC money under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program to expand its ShaleNet training to four hubs, including ones in Ohio and Texas.

“ShaleNet and this community college and the other participants have a track record there. It’s not a theory; they’ve proven over time their effectiveness in being able to train people,” Casey said. “It’s a great fit where there’s a need and also a vehicle to have those kinds of jobs be realized in this economy.”

Casey told students he appreciates their commitment to training for the natural gas industry and said it shows they aren’t “waiting for the future to unfold” but rather creating it themselves.

Mindy Walls, senior director of corporate development for Chesapeake Energy, said the company was hard-pressed to find trained local workers when it began drilling in Pennsylvania in 2009. Since then, WCCC’s program has helped the company hire locally, with 83 percent of its work force in the southwestern counties coming from Pennsylvania.

Jeff Wennersten, 42, of North Huntingdon said he chose to retrain for a job in the natural gas industry after serving in the Navy and working for years in sales.

“I just don’t want to rely on other people and other sources of energy,” he said. “We have the abundance here. Let’s utilize it, create jobs. It’s great for the state of Pennsylvania. I’m just proud to be a part of it.”

County officials lauded the program, which has gotten 863 people employed in the natural gas industry.

“There’s no way to harness the development of industrial operations without some amount of risk,” Commissioner Tyler Courtney said. “We need to take technology and innovation in the drilling industry and bring us up to the 21st century so we can benefit from the resources we have underneath us while protecting the environment and our constituents.”

Commissioner Ted Kopas said he’s confident officials can balance the economic benefits of the industry with environmental concerns about drilling.

“No one wants to have polluted streams or polluted air, by any stretch,” Kopas said. “This program has proven the interest in the gas industry, (and) it’s proven the value of the gas industry to workers here.”

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