Appalachian Basin

Petroleum Engineering Department Looking to Expand at Marietta College

Marietta College’s Department of Petroleum Engineering is one of the premier petroleum engineering programs in the United States.  Founded in 1835, Marietta College hosts the 9th largest petroleum engineering program in the United States and the only program at a small, liberal arts college.  It  is also the largest petroleum engineering program in the eastern United States.   With renovations just completed in 2005, Dr. Robert Chase, chair and professor of the program, never dreamed it would expand so much and touch so many lives before he retired.

The College’s Petroleum Engineering program was founded in 1946 and their geology program goes back to the late 1800’s.  Dr. Chase joined Marietta College in 1978 and has helped graduate over 600 students since that time.  Many of these graduates are now working with major oil and gas corporations throughout the world.

As interest begins to pick up regarding shale development, there has been an increased interest in petroleum engineering degrees.  As a result, Marietta’s Petroleum Engineering department has seen a significant increase in applicants.  In 2011, over two-hundred prospective students applied for enrollment, unfortunately the program was only able to accommodate seventy.  The petroleum engineering program currently has a class of  two-hundred and forty and forty geology students also participate in the program.  By means of comparison, ten years ago there may have been only one hundred and forty students in this program at any given time.

With the renewed interest, Dr. Chase is looking to expand this program even more.  Although the department just renovated in 2005, Marietta College did not anticipate such a large influx of prospective students.  While plans still  need to be developed, Dr. Chase is hopeful they can to essentially double the size of their current building .

Not only does the college intend to expand programming for four year students, but they will also be developing certificate programs for people who are not able to set aside four years to earn a bachelor’s degree.  A petroleum engineering degree is not the only degree needed for oil and gas development and Dr. Chase wants to be sure Marietta College is providing opportunities for local residents to learn new skills to be involved in natural gas development should they choose.  To achieve this goal, certificate programs and two year degrees are essential in helping meet the increased workforce needed for Ohio’s shale development.  Marietta is developing programs to help local residents earn these qualifications so they can be a part of development.

The education provided at Marietta is well rounded developing the students social, and interpersonal skills, just as much as their knowledge of petroleum engineering.  Dr. Chase encourages his students to go back to their high schools and hometowns to discuss shale development and opportunities they are seeing in field.  The purpose is two fold.  The students are able to educate their communities on hydraulic fracturing and horizontal exploration as well as encourage prospective students into exploring this unique field.

Dr. Chase is excited that other programs are also looking at ways to increase the local workforce available for natural gas development in Eastern Ohio.  He has been working with  some of these efforts, like at the Ohio State University, where Dr. Chase is helping establish distance learning programs for geophysics and geology. In addition to efforts at Ohio State, Zane State is also currently working to develop a two year program in addition to the Retrain America program they currently offer.

Over the years, many of Dr. Chase’s graduates have had to relocate to other parts of the country to maximize the benefits of obtaining their degrees.   However, the development of the Utica Shale has significantly changed this dynamic and now graduates can stay in the region and find good paying jobs utilizing the skills they have learned in Ohio.  Make no mistake, opportunities in petroleum engineering are increasing in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  Two of Dr. Chase’s former students for example are now developing a shale well in Monroe County, which is only one county north of Marietta College.

Marietta College is at the forefront of developing the needed workforce for Ohio’s shale development.  However, they will not be the only ones pursuing that goal.  Many other institutions are now developing needed curriculum for shale exploration and multiple additional programs will likely be coming online in the not too distant future.  This will likely result in former students being able to move closer to home to take on new jobs as well as new students being able to find challenging work right in their backyard. For once in our recent history, Ohio graduates will not have to worry about relocating to other parts of the United States to earn a  decent living.  It is an exciting time in eastern Ohio and its only the beginning.

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