Young Blood a Hot Commodity in Booming Energy Industry
July 2, 2009 -- When Shannon Townley graduated from Western State College in December 2006 with a degree in geology, she worked for the Colorado Geologic Survey (CGS) for six months, like many WSC alumni before her.
All the while, oil and gas companies were knocking hard on her door in an attempt to recruit her.
That’s because of a strong demand for younger blood in the petroleum industry, sparked by the growing world-wide demand for energy and an expected surge in retirements of petroleum geologists in coming years.
Now Townley is a geologist with Cirque Resources. And her experience isn’t unique.
“I’ve realized there are a lot of Western graduates in the industry,” she said. “(Companies) like to hire Western graduates.”
WSC leaders hope that’s a trend that continues to be a boon for the young petroleum geology program.
The program was formed following a $1 million donation to WSC in 2001 from 1978 graduate and former WSC Trustee Paul Rady. The gift provided funding for the hiring of an “endowed chair.”
At the time, said Jim Coogan, who was named to the position following Rady’s gift, the petroleum industry was “a lot slower.”
“The credit to Western is that we were really ahead of the curve,” said Coogan.
Texas oilman W.A. “Tex” Moncrief, Jr. contributed an additional $2.5 million to the program since its inception, allowing for the hiring of another endowed chair as well as more faculty support, technology and field opportunities, among other additions.
WSC’s petroleum geology program is one of only four in the nation and the only in Colorado. Coogan, and others, call Western a great natural setting to study geology.
Numerous recent Western geology graduates — even those who didn’t declare an emphasis in petroleum geology — can vouch that finding a job in the petroleum industry is not difficult in today’s world of high oil prices.
“If you’ve got any experience in the field, it’s likely you’ll get a job because of what’s going on in the petroleum industry,” said Dale Orth, chair of the Department of Natural and Environmental Sciences.
About half of all working petroleum geologists are expected to retire in the next decade, Coogan explained. That’s because when oil prices declined in the 1980s, many younger scientists and students were forced into other fields.
That has made placing Western geology graduates in industry jobs much easier than in the past.
“Any student who wants a job or internship gets one,” Coogan said.
He’s comprised a list — which grows longer each year — that attests to the demand. It’s of recent graduates he’s helped place in jobs and internships. For this past school year, 12 names dot the list, compared to five for 2002-03.
Peter Dea, current Western Trustee and CEO of Cirque Resources, agreed about the workforce demand.
“If you talk to any executive in the oil and gas industry and ask, ‘What’s your greatest challenge going forward?’ I guarantee their answer will be human resources,” he proclaimed.
Coogan is confident that Western students graduate with enough understanding of concepts and knowledge that they can start working within the industry right out of college, which he claims is rare.
Most geologists who have been successful in the industry have gone on to grad school.
Such is the case with 2003 WSC grad Jen McHarge, who earned a master’s degree from the University of Wyoming and is now working for ExxonMobile in Houston.
Hoping to pursue careers in geology, graduates like McHarge and Townley say they were drawn to the petroleum industry because of its immediate application of acquired skills.
“If you’re coming out of school with a master’s degree, you’re going to have five to 10 job offers, your starting pay is going to be $80,000 a year and you’re going to have at least a $20,000 signing bonus,” said Rady, the cofounder and CEO of Antero Resources in Denver.
The rising global demand for energy has only placed a higher premium on a well-trained workforce, which includes petroleum engineers and “land men” — those who secure the mineral rights for extraction.
Moncrief also has contributed $1.5 million to allow for the formation of the Professional Land and Resource Management program at the college, a program which seeks to turn out qualified land men. There have been numerous other industry investments into that program, as well as petroleum geology.
“We think that tight supply will be with us for some time, so we need geologists and land men to go out and find new resources and get the most out of areas where we know resources exist,” said Dea.
And he added that if there aren’t enough people to find petroleum supplies, that would lead to higher prices.
“We’re all for any alternative energy you can think of, but the reality is fossil fuels are going to be with us for another generation,” said Rady.
When asked if he sees a paradox between the steps toward energy efficiency WSC has taken in recent years on one hand, and the prevalence that the petroleum geology program is gaining on the other, Orth noted why graduates like Rady and Dea came to Western and studied geology.
“They love being outside and love the environment,” he said. “It’s good to have those people out there in charge of the industry.”
Because the demand for oil is not expected to go away any time soon, there is greater emphasis on extracting it in “a smart, strategic and environmental way,” he said.
Orth continued, “I have confidence that our students are going to fall into that category.”
Story by: Will Shoemaker of the Gunnison Times.
Reproduced with permission.