Area, students benefit from energy training facilities

11 14, 2012 by Daily Comet

Houma-Thibodaux offers several facilities where prospective oil and gas industry workers can get an education and training, providing an economic boost to the area.

Nicholls State University, Fletcher Technical Community College and oil companies such as BP and Chevron are among places where workers can learn to get a high-paying job in the energy industry.

“The economy sees a benefit. We have all local employees,” said Kip Robichaux, training director for Falck Alford in Houma. “The guys that actually stay here stay at local hotels. Again, that goes back into the community. They eat at local restaurants. We use local vendors for supplies.”

To get a better idea of what these facilities mean for the area, Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet said to think of them like a Walmart.

“They can put (a Walmart) in an outlying area, and before you know it, all kinds of retail and other establishments are all around the Walmart,” Claudet said. “Generally when you have large facilities like that, other service companies in other areas of the oilfield start establishing themselves in the general vicinity. You’ve already seen that in the BP area, and I’m expecting that you’ll see the same thing at the Chevron facility.”

When large companies come in, they try to operate in a way that will benefit the community as well as the company, said Gary Luquette, president of Chevron Exploration and Production Co., during a speech he gave in August at the ribbon-cutting for the company’s Preservation and Maintenance Facility in Gray.

“We want to operate as a good corporate citizen and to invest in the communities where we live and work to make it as good as and hopefully a better place than before we arrived,” Luquette said.

Tom Cloninger, who lead a tour of the massive facility, said the construction was largely a local effort.

“We bought all the pilings locally. We had a local contractor put them in. (The) local contractor that did most of the siting work was Byron Talbot. The concrete was provided by Ken LeBlanc right down the road,” Cloninger said. “We had a lot of locals involved in this.”

Chevron plans to bring in people from all over the world to train in the area, Claudet and company officials said.

Small companies like Falck Alford also are producing safety-conscious employees.

“Different operators out there require different types of training to get onto their platforms such as water survival, Rig Pass or Safe Gulf orientation. Included in that is training to escape a capsized helicopter underwater. Hopefully the guys never have to experience it, but we send them ready to do it,” Robichaux said.

Alford’s program teaches students the basics of safety and how to handle an emergency. This program is accepted internationally and attracts students from around the world.

Fletcher Technical Community College also offers students insight into the oilfield. Students learn about fluid controls, equipment that’s used in the field, instrumentation, operation and safety, said William Tulak, Fletcher vice chancellor of instruction.

Oilfield education can go even further than a two-year degree and stretch into a bachelor’s degree as offered by Nicholls State University through its petroleum services programs.

“Students here learn drilling, production and safety. That’s called E and P, exploration and production. We’re not so much interested in process technology, which is accomplished in refineries,” said John Griffin, associate professor of petroleum services at Nicholls.

In September, school officials and industry executives unveiled the Johnson L. “Bubba” Hale Jr. Drilling Fluids laboratory at Nicholls.

Paid for with a more than a $300,000 patchwork of money from state education and private oil industry sources, the lab includes six stations with a suite of machines real-world oil-field technicians use to monitor drilling sites.

It also includes a computer lab for students to run simulations and work up reports.

Two more phases will eventually be added: a reservoir fluids lab and an environmental lab where students will test air and water samples for possible chemical contamination.

The benefits to being trained so close to the oilfield are numerous. Oil companies and colleges work with each other to keep their training programs current resulting in students breaking in to the industry quicker.

Responding to demand from the offshore industry, Nicholls State University will offer a specialized degree in maritime management starting in the fall of 2013.

Students in the College of Business Administration will be able to choose maritime management as a degree concentration. Though the school is developing class material, courses will focus on the logistics, law and economics of offshore companies aimed at giving students practical experience to join the industry.

Many of the specialized courses within the major will be taught by industry experts. For a course on maritime law, for example, an attorney who specializes in that subject will teach it as a part-time employee.