Natural gas development has been improving the quality of life in Northeastern Pennsylvania since it began a little over a half-decade ago. Now, things are moving into high gear with CNG as well, especially in education.
There has been significant support for higher education institutions across Pennsylvania since development of the Marcellus Shale. Cabot Oil & Gas, for example, is partnering with Lackawanna College and Johnson College to share industry know-how and needed leadership to help their programs provide job-ready natural gas and compressed natural gas (CNG) education to northeastern Pennsylvania students. It’s a great story and one that’s not being told nearly enough.
How Natural Gas Companies Are Supporting Education
Cabot Oil & Gas and other operators have donated new and recently used equipment for students to learn on and have provided students and instructors significant access to drilling sites, producing well sites, compression facilities, etc. Much of the donated equipment is similar to what is currently being used in the field. This enables hands-on experience for the students and ensures they are prepared to work upon graduation.
At the high school level, Cabot has partnered with the Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center (SCCTC) at Elk Lake. To date our company has funded $200,000 in scholarships to ensure students interested in vocational education are not excluded for financial reasons. These scholarships are available to all students, regardless of their technical interests. Cabot also spends a great deal of time lecturing to students and mentoring them at the SCCTC. And, Cabot is working with SCCTC to establish curriculum bridges between Lackawanna College and Johnson College to reward students with college credits for classes and experiences during their high school years.
Our biggest undertaking has been a partnership with Junior Achievement and the Northern Tier Industrial Educational Consortium to present “Careers in Energy.” This multi-lesson program exposes 9th grade students to the thousands of jobs available in the energy sector.
Opportunities for Natural Gas and CNG Jobs
Natural gas and compression technologies are two great careers that are in-demand today. Cabot will be developing the Marcellus Shale gas for decades to come and these two careers are vastly important to the success of our industry’s operations.
Automotive and diesel mechanics with CNG certifications are increasingly in need. Our industry is moving toward using more natural gas powered vehicles and equipment. Additionally, other industries have shown a willingness to transition to compressed natural gas vehicles. A skilled workforce, trained and experienced to service vehicles and equipment that are fueled with CNG, will be in demand for decades to come.
Our industry is also dependent on employees with good communication skills regardless of their technical background. Employees in the field must disseminate raw information to regional offices and they must be able to understand directions routinely. Two way communications is imperative to the safe, effect production of natural gas.
But, given, the rural characteristics of Northeastern Pennsylvania and the significant restrictions of cellular and landline communication networks, the industry now relies heavily on alternative means of communication. Yes, CB radios are used in trucks and by those in the field quite often, but remote satellite link-ups, internet hotspots on location and GPS technologies are being implored to keep information streaming two ways 24/7.
Another career example for this industry is the marketing and sales of equipment used in the business. On any given pad site as many as 50 contractors are providing necessary services or are supping key products to develop oil and natural gas. Being well versed technically and possessing strong communication skills are huge advantages in this field.
The Future of Natural Gas and CNG in Northeastern Pennsylvania
Here are some of the schools that are currently offering degrees and courses aimed at the growth in natural gas industry, which we expect to continue for many years.
- Lackawanna College – Petroleum and Natural Gas Associate degrees
- Johnson College – Automotive and Diesel with CNG specializations
- Mansfield University – Safety Management B.S. and Natural Gas Production AAS
- Pennsylvania College of Technology – Shale Training and Education Center
- Penn State University – Engineering and Geology Degrees
- Marietta College (Ohio) – Petroleum Engineering
Also, with new Dandy CNG stations (see picture above of Towanda facility) currently operating in Towanda and Sayre, this technology is likely to come on strong as a fuel of choice for our vehicles here in the Northeast. Honda currently sells a CNG Civic right off the showroom floor.
It’s hard to definitely say whether CNG will ever replace gasoline and diesel but it’s clear it will be very competitive here; especially since additional CNG projects are scheduled in the Northern Tier and in Scranton. The technology currently exists and costs associated with CNG vehicles will continue to come down. The continued growth of CNG vehicles depends on educating consumers about the benefits of CNG as a fuel.
That is why Cabot and our partners in the industry are leading by example, converting our fleet of vehicles and the equipment we use. Having local companies like Diaz Industries running heavy duty vehicles (roll-off garbage trucks) and LT Verrastro Inc. switching its distribution fleet to CNG fuel will certainly help perpetuate the transition to CNG vehicles. But perhaps the biggest influence is Ford’s decision to start promoting CNG vehicle packages installed right in its factory. With the support of an industry giant like Ford promoting it, the public will start to recognize the significant advantages of CNG.
The other positive with CNG is that it doesn’t have to be the only fuel in the vehicle. Vehicles will seamless transition to gasoline on command or automatically when empty and the combined range of both fuels allow for greater distances traveled in-between refueling.
The number of CNG qualified maintenance individuals in northeastern Pennsylvania (and the country) is low. That is why it’s very important to start training more of these technicians now, especially since the industry has already begun buying CNG fueled trucks and equipment. The transition has begun, so now it’s time to build the workforce, which is why the natural gas industry is putting such emphasis on education.
Switching fleets to run on CNG is much easier than it may seem. The technology has existed for decades. Companies like Proctor and Gamble have been running CNG equipment for years. And municipalities like State College (check it out in the video) have been running bus transportation systems on it for years, too. Kenworth of PA, one of our industry partners, is selling CNG powered vehicles and offering the maintenance on the vehicles today. Whether by conversion of existing vehicles or the purchase of new, factory equipped systems, CNG powered vehicles are increasingly being used. Certified CNG mechanics have a bright and busy future.
Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation is already running 60 CNG vehicles in this area. Both Williams Mid-stream and Southwestern Energy have CNG vehicles as does Chesapeake Energy. State College’s bus system has been running CNG for over 20 years. More recently Williamsport’s bus system made the transition. Under the state’s new grant program many more fleet vehicles will be converted during the next three years. Waste Management is making the switch as is UPS and FedEX.
As for the necessary infrastructure, it’s pretty simple: we need more fueling stations built close enough together to encourage new vehicle purchases. Access to natural gas is the necessary requirement to building a CNG fueling station.
Is Natural Gas the Real Green Energy? Is CNG?
Much of government these days is dedicated to promoting “green” energy such as wind and solar but CNG and natural gas may be the greenest of fuels in terms of the potential to change things. That’s why the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is currently offering a number of natural gas incentives for vehicles and fueling stations, for example.
Natural gas burns significantly cleaner than its counterparts. CNG vehicles produce an average of: 70% less carbon monoxide (co); 87% less non-methane organic gas (NMOG); 87% less nitrogen oxide (NOx); 25% less carbon dioxide (CO2). Environmentally, the biggest positive of CNG is the elimination of diesel particulate matter, the dark soot-like emissions coming out of exhausts pipes.
We already have a number of quality petroleum and natural gas degrees available from higher education facilities in the Northeast. So as to ensure these degrees are relevant and applicable to what Cabot and the other natural gas companies require, the curriculum continues to be reviewed by our experts. This allows for an exchange of information that benefits both the school and the students, and provides well-instructed graduates for our industry. See this video to understand what is evolving.
Manufacturing businesses in the region are starting to recognize the demand for natural gas powered vehicles and are expanding their operations to include Pennsylvania produced part and original equipment for this emerging market. This convergence of low cost energy with a growing demand for manufactured goods will continue to grow into the future, a bright future for the Northeast, the quality of life here and education.