BY STACI WILSON
A partnership between higher education and industry brought Sen. Pat Toomey to Susquehanna County Wednesday afternoon in his first visit to the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum and Natural Gas campus in New Milford Twp.
Sen. Toomey said, “I wanted to get a first-hand look at the work they are doing here. It’s exciting. They are providing specific training geared toward good paying technical jobs in Pennsylvania, at a salary that can support a family.”
Lackawanna College President Mark Volk said the senator’s visit provided the opportunity to showcase the impact the school is having in the Marcellus Shale region. “We train local students to work locally with family sustaining wages and benefits.”
He also noted the investment natural gas companies have made in the school – providing funds, equipment, and internships, as well as post-graduation jobs to the students.
Sen. Toomey said the impact of the Marcellus Shale play goes far beyond the local area. “The scale of natural gas we have is already changing manufacturing, making Pennsylvania more competitive,” he said, later adding that natural gas development was a significant driving factor of economic growth in the area. He also noted the national security benefits that come along with lessening the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
On the policy front, the senator advocated for the lifting of the moratorium on drilling put in place by the Delaware River Basin Commission. He also pushed back against efforts that would place regulatory control in the hands of the federal Environmental Protection Agency – and out of control of the state’s Dept. of Environmental Protection.
A member of the 2011 and first graduates from the School of PNG was also on hand during the senator’s visit.
Brian Hollister, of Elk Lake, called his time at Lackawanna College “a life changing experience.”
Hollister had retired at age 49 from Procter & Gamble but his savings took a substantial hit as the stock market crashed in 2008.
“There were no good jobs around at the time,” said the man who had worked in manufacturing most of his adult life.
He enrolled at the New Milford campus, taking the last open seat available in the program that year.
“I had a job before I graduated,” Hollister said. He now works with Williams as an Operations Tech. “It’s a tremendous program.”
Now working in the industry, Hollister has seen a number of new industry employees come out of Lackawanna College.
Ken Walter – a current School of PNG student and president of the school’s Society of Petroleum Engineers – spoke with the senator during his visit to the campus.
“I wanted to get across to him the great opportunity that the Marcellus Shale is,” Walter said. He praised the school’s program as well as the instructional staff. “They’ve brought people from the top of their fields to teach – knowledgeable professionals and they pass that on to the students.”
Walter said he also spoke to Sen. Toomey about the bigger picture of the natural gas development – including the potential for growth of other industries in the area.
“Pennsylvania has led the way in coal, then steel and here we are again with gas development,” Walter said. “Pennsylvania is going to benefit.”
Walter added, “The fact that (Senator Toomey) is here says something about that the gas industry and Lackawanna College has done for the state. For the senator to show up – that’s important.”