Shale-gas development creates demand for environmental graduates

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Marcellus Shale natural gas play is having a significant impact on Pennsylvania's economy, and Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences is helping to position students to benefit from associated employment opportunities.

Recently the college's Environment and Natural Resources Institute held a Marcellus Shale Info-Fest for students in the College of Agricultural Sciences in environment-related majors to show them what the specialized industry has to offer in the way of jobs.

This year, in particular, there are many opportunities, according to James Ladlee, extension educator and director of special initiatives for the Marcellus Education and Training Center, which is a collaboration between Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport and Penn State Extension.

"In 2011, roughly 1,900 Marcellus Shale wells were drilled, likely requiring more than 25,000 direct employees and nearly 45,000 indirect employees," said Ladlee. "State data show that since 2008, core jobs related to shale-gas development have increased by nearly 17,000 just in Pennsylvania."

Ladlee said College of Agricultural Sciences' students often represent the strong work ethic, the interest in experiential learning and the creative problem-solving skills needed for the jobs in the shale-gas arena.

"They are among those who best understand the importance of using science-based information to create a better future," he said. "All these skills are directly transferable to oil and gas exploration companies or businesses and government agencies that support or regulate gas development."

The Marcellus Shale Info-Fest touched on a wide variety of jobs and careers related to environmental implications for shale development. Those jobs can be in the gas industry, government agencies, private firms and academia.

Shale gas is emerging as a significant economic driver in many places across the country, so students have many chances to get involved, Ladlee noted. It's a relatively new industry to the East, so here the job opportunities are widely available.

"Although changes appear to be occurring, over the last several years the scale of shale-gas development in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southwestern part of the state was unprecedented," Ladlee said. "Those areas have been hot spots. Thousands of jobs were created just in Pennsylvania, either directly related to drilling or indirectly related to the shale-gas industry.

Penn State College of Ag Sciences students are uniquely positioned to tackle all aspects of oil and gas development, Ladlee pointed out. Students with an education or background in environmental sciences, forestry, engineering, construction, geology, biology, agricultural law, energy business or information sciences are qualified.

"If a student wants to be on the front end of an industry or regulatory system that is growing and dynamic, there are opportunities," he said. "Students can be a part of the foundation for a strong regulatory system or help to transform and create even better oil- and gas-management practices for industry from the inside.

"Students need to understand that there are opportunities. There are literally tens of thousands of jobs being created as a result of this particular energy development throughout Pennsylvania."

Job and career information provided at the Marcellus Shale Info-Fest is posted online. Click here to watch a video and see resources for potential jobs related to shale gas development.

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Last Updated May 21, 2012