Pro-Drilling Group Develops Middle School Curriculum

By Weigand, Jodi | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 5, 2011 | Go to article overview

Pro-Drilling Group Develops Middle School Curriculum


Weigand, Jodi, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


A jobs curriculum funded by the Marcellus shale industry could be in Western Pennsylvania middle schools as early as fall.

Four Marcellus shale drilling companies donated most of the $65,000 that the nonprofit Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania spent to research and develop its new Careers in Energy program, said Bill Lucas, JA's chief development officer.

The Energy Corporation of America Foundation, the grant arm of the Denver gas and oil well drilling company, donated $25,000, the largest amount. Other money came from Cabot Oil & Gas, Talisman Energy, Chesapeake Energy and the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Cecil- based trade group.

"We all realized that no matter what side of the fence you're on, these jobs are here, and if we don't educate our kids about them, we're doing them a disservice," Lucas said.

Marcellus shale gas drilling has been touted as an economic boon for the area. But concerns abound about the impact that the drilling, which uses millions of gallons of water to extract the natural gas, could have on land, water and air.

Junior Achievement assembled an 18-person committee of representatives from the drilling industry, environmental groups and local and state governments to review the final version of the curriculum to ensure it is balanced, Lucas said.

"The one thing we wanted to make sure was that this was going to be completely unbiased," he said. "From an educational point of view, schools wouldn't let us teach it if it wasn't."

Nathan Sooy, a campaign coordinator for Clean Water Action of Pennsylvania, which opposes Marcellus shale drilling, is wary.

"If the industry is going to exist in Pennsylvania, it's going to need to, and probably should, make its way into the vocational school curriculum," he said. "I think the appropriateness of it being in the curriculum depends on what that looks like."

Junior Achievement needs about $35,000 to complete the rollout of the curriculum to about 11,000 middle school students. Marcellus shale gas drilling-related jobs will be among the many the energy industry offers, Lucas said.

Industry-funded curriculum is not unusual for Junior Achievement, which teaches more than 61,000 K-12 students in Western Pennsylvania about work force readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through hands-on programs. It relies on business representatives, parents and other volunteers to teach the lessons.

JA's in-school and after-school programs are free to schools. Locally, Pittsburgh Public Schools and numerous Catholic schools partner with JA.

Careers in Energy is one of two industry-funded educational initiatives in the region. The other is a traveling energy education exhibit funded by the Drake Well Museum, in Titusville, which touts the benefits of oil and gas drilling.

Outside the industry, teachers, an independent nonprofit environmental group, state agencies and the Pennsylvania College of Technology have completed or are working on lessons about Marcellus shale.

What's pushing the effort, said Jeannette Carter, director of outreach for K-12 education at Penn College, which is part of Penn State University, is the desire to impart background knowledge about Marcellus shale like many people have about the steel industry. …

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