Alumni Among Local Pioneers in Gas Exploration

by Tom Wilson, writer/editor-PCToday Photos by Larry Kauffman,
map courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

By her alma mater’s standards, Amanda M. Kennedy is a typical woman in the workforce: dependable in a demanding field, equally at home with transmission fluid and nail polish, and thriving in what Pennsylvania College of Technology calls – with increasing infrequency – employment that is “nontraditional by gender.”

George P. “Pat” Moriarity arrived at his job by a no-less-unconventional route, taking advantage of maternal vigilance and networking skills to run an end-around his initial career hopes.

We know that there will be many opportunities for future graduates to work in the natural gas industry within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Both of the Penn College graduates are in the midst of storybook lives work-wise, when you consider that the “story” is one of the biggest to hit Pennsylvania in the 150 years since Edwin Drake struck oil at Titusville: development of the Marcellus Shale, a geological swath that runs beneath a half-dozen states and could hold enough natural gas to slake a nation thirsty for a homegrown energy supply.

The alumni are employed by an Appalachian arm of Chief Oil & Gas, a Texas-based company that is among those exploring the potentially profitable underground formation. Chief has leased more than 500,000 acres in the Marcellus Shale play, opening a local field office along Fairfield Road and drilling its first Lycoming County well in August 2007.

Moriarity is the materials coordinator at the Montoursville-area field office, and Kennedy is a midstream operator at Chief Gathering’s compression station covering the county’s eastern half.

Amanda M. Kennedy, a midstream operator at a Chief Oil & Gas compression station, works on location in eastern Lycoming County.

The subsidiary is responsible for the gathering and selling of Chief gas and has two taps into the Transco interstate pipeline in Lycoming County – one on the east side (known as Barto) and one to the west (Canoe Run). The tie-in to Transco includes metering facilities and ancillary equipment that continuously oversee the flow of gas from Chief to Transco; data is transmitted via a communication tower and is monitored 24 hours a day.

Exploration of the Marcellus Shale already has brought two legislative hearings to the Penn College campus, proceedings at which government officials, industry representatives and environmental groups voiced opinions on a host of regulatory, fiscal and economic-development issues. Kennedy and Moriarity are among the participants in the high-stakes, high-profile enterprise, which has engaged everyone from entrepreneurial drilling companies to optimistic landowners – and which prompted the college to help act as a clearinghouse for the glut of information (and a remedy for the rampant misinformation) that can accompany such a windfall occurrence.

At Chief Oil 
& Gas' Montoursville warehouse, George Patrick Moriarity coordinates deliveries to Chief's field sites and maintains the company's local pipe yards.

The college and Penn State Cooperative Extension formed the Marcellus Shale Education & Training Center, which provides a variety of resources to the community and the oil-and-gas industry. Its primary goals are to provide concise and accurate information for the public, and to help industry meet its myriad workforce needs with backyard talent.

The first major initiative of the center was to thoroughly analyze the industry’s workforce needs by occupational title and to estimate the industry’s education and training needs.

“This comprehensive workforce needs assessment provides all education and training providers information regarding the number of jobs by title, which will help them identify the types of training that will be required,” said Larry L. Michael, executive director of workforce and economic development at Penn College.

As is obvious with Kennedy and Moriarity, among others, Chief already has turned to the local labor pool to fill many of its positions.

“Chief is excited to have local employees play an integral role in the daily operations,” said community affairs officer Daria Fish, who observed that nearly 50 percent of field-office employees were hired locally. “With Penn College’s commitment to excellence in education and to creating the MSETC, we know that there will be many opportunities for future graduates to work in the natural gas industry within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Summer 09 issue cover.

Kennedy, a 2008 graduate in heavy construction equipment technology: Caterpillar equipment emphasis, dabbled in architectural technology, interned and worked with Cleveland Brothers, a Caterpillar dealership, and was prepared to re-enroll in radiography when she was chosen from among many applicants for one of three positions.

“I guess they were impressed with some of the questions I was asking,” Kennedy said, noting the head start she got from instructors Mark E. Sones and David C. Johnson in Penn College’s diesel equipment technology department. “They gave me the mechanical background; they gave me the skills for this.”

Kennedy is on the short list of employees that rotate on-call emergency availability, which means the hours – and the responsibilities – can add up.

“It’s not just a job, it’s certainly not a normal 9-to-5 job, and it’s definitely not for everyone,” she added. “It’s very challenging and can be stressful at times, but the opportunity’s there. And don’t ever think that you know everything you need to know in this field, because the minute you think you’ve mastered something? Forget it.”

She may still be learning – on the day she was interviewed, Kennedy was studying for a review exam to mark the end of her first 90 days on the job – but her conversation shows a ready command of her field. She talks of “scrubbers” and “pigs,” “gas eyes” and “control valves” – the tools that help her gauge temperature, regulate suction and discharge pressure, and generally maintain a safe and productive operation.

Moriarity graduated in 2006 with a degree in business administration: management information systems.

“Actually, I found out about Chief Oil & Gas prior to being hired because our family cabin was approached about three years ago (about) wanting to lease the land,” Moriarity said. “Our cabin is located near the Canoe Run compressor station in Salladasburg. I graduated in 2006 and didn’t really have much fortune in this area finding a good ‘career’ job; I had a full-time job, but always kept my options open.”

His mother works for a temporary-employment agency in Montoursville and often checked for new job openings. Once Chief posted the materials coordinator position, he quickly found his niche.

“From there, it was the application process to the interview to accepting the position,” he said. “Every day at work is different, and that is what makes it interesting … besides the whole industry being new to this area.”

Moriarity is in charge of warehousing material and inventory, coordinating sites to which the deliveries need to be made, and maintaining Chief’s two local pipe yards.

“I think my Penn College education helped prepare me for this career because it gave me the background and knowledge I need to manage and use technology in my everyday work schedule,” he said.

Penn College President Davie Jane Gilmour noted that the college is well-positioned – both in terms of employees and facilities – to help natural-gas companies meet their workforce needs as the exploration process evolves.

“We are thrilled to have a wide variety of both education and training programs that fit the needs of this industry,” she said, “and we look forward to many more success stories such as this.” ■