Marietta College hosts summer oil and gas workshop for teachers

If you've ever wondered why an M&M candy melts in your mouth and not in your hand, ask Bluffton High School's John George, one of the 37 science teachers who recently attended a two-day workshop at Marietta College.

"It's the paraffin," George said during the first day of the workshop. Paraffin is a distillate of crude oil, which was one of the topics covered during the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP) seminar held in the lower level of the Edwy R. Brown Department of Petroleum Engineering building at the College.

The session is offered several times each year to elementary and high school teachers from across Ohio. Its purpose is to provide educators with a scientifically up-to-date curriculum, lesson plans and activities regarding the geology and petroleum engineering industries. OOGEEP has offered the workshops since 1999.

The workshop—including meals, room and board—is free to participating teachers, who can use the training session to count toward their Continuing Education Unit requirements or their graduate studies. The teachers stayed in dorm rooms at the College during the course.

"I think these workshops are important because I don't think most science teachers across Ohio know how important the oil and gas industry is in this state. Ohio ranks, I think, fourth in the nation for this industry," George said. He has been teaching chemistry and physics for 25 years and tries to implement at least one or two of the topics he learns through summer workshops into his high school curriculum. In his advanced chemistry class, his students experiment with samples of crude oil donated by Ohio companies through OOGEEP. "Through the students' analysis, they've learned that Ohio oil is high in paraffin."

Rhonda Reda, the executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP), said Marietta College was the perfect setting for this workshop - held in the lower level of the Edwy R. Brown Petroleum Building—because it's home to one of the oldest and most prestigious petroleum engineering schools in the country.

OOGEEP, which is based in Granville, is a non-profit educational program that's voluntarily funded by the oil and gas industry in Ohio.

"In Ohio, there are more than 64,000 active crude oil and natural gas wells in operation," Reda said. "For every barrel of crude oil produced in Ohio, our industry chips in five cents into this program. For every MCF (metric cubic foot) of natural gas that's produced, the industry chips in one cent."

Sarah Tipka, a partner at A.W. Tipka Oil & Gas in Dover, is the committee chairwoman in charge of teacher workshops for OOGEEP, and one of its former board members. She has worked in the industry for 18 years and was an elementary school teacher for 21 years.

"One of our main focuses with this workshop is to combat misinformation that is circulating around about the industry," Tipka said. "It's very important that our teachers have the correct scientific information about these natural sciences so they can properly inform their students."

Reda agreed, adding that the teachers who attend the workshop learn many aspects about the science behind the oil and gas industry with the hopes that they can present what they've learned to their students and possibly inspire more young people to enter the field.

“In our industry, the average age is 50,� Reda said. "We want to encourage young kids to pursue a career in our industry and to know that they can work at the big companies or they can find jobs right here in Ohio. ... And with Bob Chase (professor and chair of the petroleum engineering department) and Marietta College, this was an ideal place for the workshop. His reputation - and the College's - is incredible in our industry."