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Education Drilling for jobs: students ponder energy industry’s future

Drilling for jobs: students ponder energy industry’s future

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

A. Lee Graham lgraham@bizpress.net

Wes Ellett has diamonds in his eyes. “What I really want to do is sell really expensive diamond-plated drill bits,” said Ellett, one of 400 students and energy industry representatives sharing perspectives at a recent networking event at Texas Christian University. Munching hors d’oeuvres and discussing employment opportunities, those on both sides of the hiring line had upbeat impressions of an industry that pumped $284 billion into the nation’s gross domestic product in 2012 and stands to surpass $468 billion by the end of the decade, according to a recent study by IHS Inc.

“There are a lot of opportunities,” said Ellett, a former U.S. Marine sergeant and, at 29, already an energy industry veteran after testing gas well blowout preventers for Lone Star Hydrostatic LLC in Montague, northwest of Fort Worth. “Anytime I’d get a call, I’d drive to wherever companies were drilling, and we’d test the preventers to make sure they were safe so they could start drilling,” Ellett said. But he returned to school to fulfill a promise to his grandfather. “I promised to get my degree, but I’m here to find out who’s hiring and what opportunities are out there,” Ellett said. Openings are plentiful, according to others exchanging business cards and job leads. “It’s growing every day with more and more operations popping up all over Texas,” said Jacob Kirkpatrick, a Higginbotham associate who insures energy companies. “There’s a high demand for oil and gas and a huge overall demand for the energy industry. It’s important that they be covered in everything they do,” Kirkpatrick said.

Despite predictions that solar, wind and other alternative energy sources could diminish fossil fuels’ future dominance, some students place their bets on oil and natural gas. “The oil is there,” said Austin Meyer, 21, a junior and environmental science major. Dismissing speculation that alternative energy might make fossil fuels obsolete, the Chicago native placed his bets on ongoing oil drilling. “It’s good that there is alternative energy, but there’s no problem with oil supplies, certainly not in my lifetime,” Meyer said. With Devon Energy Corp. acquiring more Eagle Ford Shale property in South Texas and other oil and natural gas producers expanding operations in the state and elsewhere, many at the March 6 session expressed confidence, despite a slowdown in Barnett Shale drilling in recent years.

“The drilling phase in the Barnett has played out,” said Jeffrey Myers, 22, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, referring to the North Texas shale formation. “Yes, it’s had a little bit of a resurgence, but it seems like most of the activity is from existing operations and not as much drilling.” Myers has watched activity ramp up in the Marcellus formation near his home in Dublin, Ohio, and he banks on alternative energy and natural gas as helping ensure the industry’s future. Myers said he plans to pursue employment in fluid flow after he graduates in May. Ellett, Myers and other students discussed job opportunities with XTO Energy representatives and others, who described jobs as multiplying.

“It’s all about jobs,” said Larry Brogdon, board chairman at TCU’s Energy Institute and a former partner with Four Sevens Oil Co. in Fort Worth, discussing the industry at the networking forum. “There are a lot of opportunities.” Those are expected to rise by 2040, according to Exxon Mobil Corp.’s recently released energy outlook. From 2010 to 2040, the global population is expected to grown from 7 billion to nearly 9 billion, with global energy demand expected to rise by about 35 percent, according to the company forecast. “So barring a pandemic or a major war, the trajectory is good,” Brogdon said. So is interest in a profession that only continues to grow. Networking event host Frank Iannelli, a strategic adviser at Texas Logistics Group and former COO at Frontier Oilfield Services Inc., compared the 400 attendees at the networking session with about 170 at the first gathering last year. “I think we’ll definitely hold additional ones, maybe do them quarterly. The interest is definitely there,” Iannelli said.  

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