Teacher-Training Program Funded by Oil and Gas Industry Growing, While Avoiding Controversy

August 20, 2014

Columbus Business First

Tom Knox

Interest in an oil and gas industry-funded program for teachers keeps growing.

As Ohio’s Utica shale fuels unprecedented oil and gas drilling in the state, more Ohio teachers are interested in a workshop put on by the organization funded by the state’s oil and natural gas companies.

But with the fracking-fueled industry’s growth comes increasing opposition from people worried about the industry’s impact on the environment. The group, the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, came under fire earlier this year for its affiliation with Radio Disney. Critics accused OOGEEP of trying to indoctrinate kids with pro-drilling propaganda.

But the group’s leader says she’s not had similar pushback with the teachers’ workshop.

“There’s no propaganda,” Executive Director Rhonda Reda told me. “They have to learn about porosity and permeability, period. They have to learn about geology, period. These are things that are required.”

OOGEEP has put on teacher workshops for 16 years. So far, 2,700 Ohio teachers from every county have gone through the program, including 200 this summer.

The two-day summer workshops are focused on science, technology, education and math used in the industry and led by education consultants. Teachers who complete the course earn 14 continuing-education credits.

One lab asks teachers to find out how oil and gas is transported by making a model pipeline and associated equipment and apply physics principles like force and velocity. Another asks if fossil fuels are renewable or non-renewable, and has teachers conduct experiments to show how heat and pressure over time turned dead plants and animals into fossil fuels.

The June workshop, held at Marietta College, toured horizontal drilling locations. I asked Reda if having teachers tour drilling and well sites could be viewed negatively from apprehensive parents. She said touring sites makes the lessons learned hit home.

“That’s why it’s important,” she said. “They really get an understanding of geology, porosity and permeability, how important it is to our industry. It allows them to ask more intelligent questions.”

OOGEEP targets science teachers of grades five through 12, pays for teachers’ overnight stays and sends them home with a “material box” to do some of the labs back at school, if it fits into the curriculum.

“There is no fracking curriculum,” Reda said. “What we’re teaching is not necessarily very oil-and-gas specific. It can have applications to a number of other things. Obviously, we use oil and gas as an example, but you can’t say kids can’t learn about geology. You have to, it’s a requirement. The fact that the oil and gas industry is supporting education, I would like to think that’s a good thing as opposed to a bad thing,” she said.

Other drilling states have reached out to OOGEEP about introducing similar programs.

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