Oil, Gas Industry Tries to Keep Talent in Pipeline

new-fields-to-hoeTrib Live

By David Conti

Four years ago, Bryan Dickson and Matt Ockree were among the youngest engineers working on gas well pads in Western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale fields.

“I was out in the frack van with Bryan a lot of days and a lot of nights, learning from the people with more experience,” said Ockree, 27, a Lower Burrell native, recalling the training he received in trailers where engineers control the hydraulic fracturing of wells.

Ockree interned with Range Resources Corp., which hired him before he graduated from Penn State University’s petroleum engineering program. He now oversees the Fort Worth-based company’s internship program.

Dickson, 29, a Washington County native, was promoted to Northeast division engineering manager after less than five years at well completion company FTS International. He supervises the latest generation of engineers.

They’re part of what the expanding oil and gas industry calls the big shift change. Drilling veterans in their 50s and 60s, who cut their teeth on an oil boom that ended before these two engineers were born, are nearing retirement.

Many industries face the dilemma of replacing large groups of workers who are preparing to retire, especially in Western Pennsylvania where baby boomers outnumber 25- to 45-year-olds by about 130,000, according to the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

“It’s probably more acute in the energy industry,” said conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky.

Twenty years of bust in the drilling business before the shale revolution gave Generation X little reason to pursue petroleum engineering degrees or jobs, leaving a gap between the dwindling number of boomers and a big batch of twentysomethings with high-tech knowledge, industry leaders say.

“We’ve been working pretty hard over the past … five years, to get past the baby boomer experience level and to fill that gap before it arrives,” said Nigel Hearne, president of Chevron Appalachia.

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