College Seeks to Equip Students for Work in the Play

As the earliest wells of the Fayetteville Shale Play were being drilled and plans for its future were being made, energy industry officials and others realized that the necessary work force to support the development of the play didn't exist in the local communities. Companies involved in the play had to bring in personnel from out of state. 

John Thaeler, senior vice president of SEECO Inc., a subsidiary of Southwestern Energy Co., approached C. Nathan Crook, chancellor of the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, with the idea of creating a new department in the college. The goal was to establish a program to train and educate people to support the anticipated growth of the petroleum industry involved in the Fayetteville Shale Play.

As Crook and Vice Chancellor Thomas Flowers began formulating the curriculum, they soon realized that there are only a few such programs in the country. 

The course structure was initially patterned after these other programs to create a system that prepares people to apply basic engineering principles and technical skills to support engineers and others working in the development and operation of petroleum extraction and processing facilities. This includes instruction in principles of petroleum extraction and related geology, petroleum field site analysis, testing and sampling methods, laboratory analysis, test equipment operation, environment and safety monitoring procedures for oil and gas fields and facilities, and report preparation.

The Associate of Applied Science degree in petroleum technology at UACCM is the first in Arkansas and one of only about seven in the United States. Now that the department is established, the continuing objective is to have a plan of studies tailored specifically toward the needs of the Fayetteville Shale Play. 

Advisory Panel Established

UACCM has established an advisory committee made up of several key company representatives. These advisers are frequently consulted by the instructors in the department for direction and guidance. They help keep the instruction abreast of the latest advancements. With this structure the students are assured of training that is of immediate use to the employers in this area.

The program, just beginning its second year, is seeing signs of success. The community and the student population have greeted the department enthusiastically. The first semester, fall of 2006, started with 36 students enrolled in the department. There are now 70 enrollees.

The students are drawn from a diverse group ranging from recent high school graduates to senior citizens, both male and female. All are coming into classes with the desire to find a way to take advantage of the employment opportunities brought to the area by companies involved in the play.

One part of the instructor's mission in the department is helping the students understand the wide variety of service and support companies taking part in the Fayetteville Shale Play. As exploration and development of this gas shale continues, as production expands, and as gathering and transportation operations increase, the infrastructure will continue to mature and employment opportunities will spring from every aspect of the industry. 

The Fayetteville play offers these students the chance to make careers in their own backyards and find financial rewards that have never before been available in this region. 

UACCM is working hand in hand with the companies participating in the development of the shale play and is preparing its students to join in this remarkable economic opportunity.

(Jeff Lambert is an instructor of petroleum technology at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton.)