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Students Learn Drilling Basics

February 21, 2012
By CASEY JUNKINS - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

West Virginia Northern Community College is doing its part to ensure that local residents have a chance to get jobs in the rapidly expanding natural gas industry.

WVNCC held its first training session at its New Martinsville site for those looking to get a rig pass for entry level jobs at gas drilling sites in December. Topics covered during the class included general safety, first aid, CPR, some basic knowledge of the actual drilling process, and career opportunities in the field.

The college and industry leaders were asked, "How well did West Virginia Northern Community College's inaugural natural gas drilling class go?"

Article Photos

Photo by Casey Junkins
Cameron resident Robert Howard, a welding student at the Ironworkers Local 549 in Wheeling, demonstrates a welding technique.

"This is the first step to getting local people trained and qualified to do this work," said Larry Tackett, New Martinsville campus dean.

The college held another rig class earlier this month, with the same format and material as the December class. Plans also are in the works for advanced rig-hand classes in the future.

Matt Wyatt, an instructor at Pierpont Community and Technical College in Fairmont, W.Va., made the trip to New Martinsville to teach the first session. He said those completing the course received an International Association of Drilling Contractors rig pass that allows them to gain entry-level employment at a drilling site. Every student enrolled in the course also submitted to a drug test, Wyatt added, as the industry has expressed concern over finding qualified applicants that are drug-free.

Following three days of classroom instruction, Wyatt said the students went to a Chesapeake Energy drilling site in Marshall County to study.

Stacey Brodak, senior director of corporate development for Chesapeake, said her company is glad to be working with the college to provide job training.

Tackett said the Wheeling-based Regional Economic Development Partnership and the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce agreed to pay the students' tuition for the first classes in December, though he is not certain this will be a continuing practice for any future classes.

"I am excited by the number of students, the variety of students and the support from RED and the chamber," Tackett said. "I would think we will be having more classes like this. We will also be having welding classes that will be specifically geared toward this industry."

Though the college is looking forward to teaching welding, Wheeling-based Ironworkers Local 549 also is instructing students in this craft.

With local natural gas processing companies such as Caiman Energy, Dominion Resources and MarkWest Liberty continuing to expand their operations, the demand for pipeline welders throughout the Upper Ohio Valley is destined to increase.

Keith Hughes, business manager at the union center, said local ironworkers, including graduates of the training program, have been hired to work for Caiman and MarkWest in Marshall County. Caiman now operates the processing plant along U.S. 250 near Cameron - and is building another plant along the Ohio River at the former Olin Chemical site. MarkWest operates the processing plant at Majorsville in the eastern part of the county near the Pennsylvania border.

"There is no experience necessary to start out," Hughes said, noting trainees can get paid for their training, rather than having to pay for training. He said beginners earn about $17 per hour, with those with more experience advancing to about $26 per hour.

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