OKC-Based Chesapeake Energy Explores Law Schools for Oil, Gas Talent

Article excerpt

When watching lawyers working on oil and gas titles or regulatory issues at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, Henry Hood observes only one under the age of 50 - a Chesapeake Energy employee.

That marks a critical, unappreciated need among the many labor shortages facing the energy sector - an aging attorney population. Although he has no supporting data, the senior vice president and general counsel for Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake estimates 70 percent of these professionals are 50 years old or older - and those rising through the ranks between ages 30 and 45 are fewer and farther between.

"Literally the 20-somethings are going to inherit this industry when the 50-somethings retire - and it's a great opportunity for them," he said. "The only thing that holds back someone in their 20s is their own abilities, so they're going to have to accelerate pretty fast."

Add this type of key labor shortage to a bustling industry struggling to keep pace with ever-increasing market demands and you have the makings of a true donnybrook come salary negotiation time - especially since Hood believes most energy firms are not prepared for the contest.

"Most of the companies in this business just haven't focused on recruiting and hiring and they're going to be in trouble," he said.

Chesapeake, however, has taken a proactive stance not just to seek out the best and the brightest, but to improve the marketplace. This fall the nation's largest natural gas independent has started scholarship programs with the universities of Tulsa, Oklahoma and West Virginia, seeking not just to identify and target top recruits, but to encourage more legal courses in areas vital to the oil and gas sector, such as titles, regulatory issues, contracts, and litigation.

"I think we're on the cutting edge," said Hood. "Selfishly, we're trying to identify quality candidates that may want to work for us. If they don't we're still benefiting from a good relationship with them."

Its five-year, $500,000 program with the University of Tulsa provides not just creation of the Chesapeake Scholars and strengthened curriculum, but brings a series of market experts to lecture and mix with students, and allows students to participate in industry conferences.

Robert Butkin, the former state treasurer and TU law dean, expects that to not just enhance the university's existing reputation for quality oil and gas instruction, but its related business and environmental programs like the National Energy- Environment Law and Policy Institute - all of which can make attending TU more attractive to students interested in such fields. …

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