Hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from the Marcellus shale beneath the Buckeye State could mean thousands of jobs for Ohioans as it already has in neighboring Pennsylvania.
More than 72,000 gas and oil jobs have been filled there since 2009, many due to the increase in horizontal drilling and fracking for natural gas, according to statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
Here in Ohio, local schools are responding to the anticipated demand for a trained oil and gas workforce by offering a variety of courses related to the industry.
"This year for the first time we're offering a geosciences major, beginning with a physical geography course in January," said Brenda Kornmiller, dean of business, engineering and industrial technologies at Washington State Community College.
"Students in the geoscience program will have two tracks to choose from-a transfer track that will allow them to move on toward a four-year degree at another institution or a two-year associate degree as a GIS (Geographic Information System) technician," she said.
Kornmiller noted that the expected expansion in the oil and gas industry will require a host of workers trained in a variety of skills and students in the Washington State program will have opportunities to learn about GIS mapping, cartography, meteorology, agronomy and soil sciences.
"The physical geography course will be taught by Josh Will, a GIS cartographer from S&A Property Research in Parkersburg, who told us there would be opportunities for our students if we would build this geoscience major," she said.
The anticipated increase in hydraulic fracturing-related jobs has also resulted in the development of a program at the Washington County Career Center, according to Dave Combs, the school's director of adult technical training.
"We're currently developing a well-tender certificate, a hands-on program to train workers to work in the gas and oil industry," Combs said. "And we're working toward becoming the training site for those industries in this area."
Bob Chase, chairman of Marietta College's Department of Petroleum Engineering, said the department has had a course in hydraulic fracturing for at least 30 years.
"We've had always had that course and every student who leaves here has a strong background in hydraulic fracturing and design," he said. "And we've modified a number of our courses over the years to focus more on shale gas and oil resources.
"But the technology for horizontal hydraulic drilling is basically the same as vertical drilling, although it's done on a larger scale," Chase added.
He said the college consults with an industry advisory committee made up of vice presidents and managers from 18 large companies.
"For years we've talked about what will happen when this shale resource becomes available," Chase said. "So we've been on top of it and our students know what they're getting into."
He said the increasing availability of high-paying jobs in the oil and gas industry fosters plenty of interest in the petroleum engineering program.
Chase noted that more than 200 applications were received from students wanting to enter the program this year but only 70 of those could be accepted.