WHEELING, W.Va. — Southwestern Energy Co. officials plan to invest $24 billion to produce oil and natural gas in West Virginia over the next 20 years.
To complete all the drilling, fracking and pipelining this will entail, Southwestern President and Chief Operating Officer William Way knows his firm will need a steady supply of trained and qualified workers.
On Monday, he joined Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin during the Wheeling Rotary Club meeting to announce the company is donating $500,000 to fund scholarships for petroleum technology programs at West Virginia Northern Community College and Pierpont Community and Technical College, with each institution receiving $250,000.
“We’ve drilled the longest two wells in our company’s history here – and we did it with West Virginians,” he said. “We are blessed to have 100 of our newer employees from here.”
West Virginia Northern President Vicki Riley said her institution will use the funds to establish an endowment, which she said would create a stream of revenue to allow two or three students each year to complete the program tuition-free. She said this would continue for several years.
“Training our local work force is vital, and so we are happy to make these gifts,” Way said. “The schools have built strong petroleum technology programs and so it makes sense to be financially supportive, but more than that, to hire the graduates.”
Several Southwestern employees and interns were on hand for the presentation, including Charleston resident Jake Kelly and Morgantown residents Paul Okeke and Tyler Milton. All three studied the technology program at Pierpont.
“It’s great,” Milton said.
Way said Southwestern engineers believe the company, when including its Pennsylvania acreage, has about 45 trillion cubic feet worth of natural gas that can be recovered in Appalachia.
One trillion cubic feet is enough natural gas to run 3.6 million televisions continuously for 100 years, or to provide power to 24.3 million homes for an entire year, according to calculations and information from Cabot Oil and Gas.
“We are already the fourth-largest supplier of natural gas to the U.S. We will soon be the third-largest because of what we’re doing in West Virginia,” Way said.
Tomblin said Southwestern is a new investor in West Virginia, but said company leaders have worked with state officials to craft a curriculum they believe will benefit the company by giving it a supply of workers and help the state by providing jobs for residents.
As college tuition rates across the nation increase, Tomblin said Mountain State officials will work as hard as they can to ensure higher education remains affordable.
“If you want a college education, whether it be a community and technical college or a four-year, we will find a way to get you educated in West Virginia,” he said.