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U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, left, and BLM State Director Jesse Juen tour New Mexico Junior College's Oilfield Training Ground, where students are able to receive hands-on training in a mock oilfield setting. (Photo by Zack Ponce — Current-Argus) via NewsCred

NMJC preps for oil, gas careers with new program

Zack Ponce | Carlsbad Current-Argus

New Mexico Junior College is developing an oil and gas technology program that has the industry around the Delaware Basin “fired up,” said Kelly Tooker, the program’s director.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and Bureau of Land Management State Director Jesse Juen toured NMJC’s Larry Hanna Training and Outreach Center in Hobbs, as well as the program’s mock oilfield, with Tooker and other local officials on Wednesday.

The college demonstrated its progress in creating the program, which is intended to be a regional leader for the training and placement of entry-level oilfield technicians.

“It’s different because I’ve probably talked to maybe 30 or 40 different people about various aspects, and most of them are fired up about it,” Tooker said. “What we’re teaching is skills to be able to do a better job with your current career or to learn new skills so that you can be promoted or advance within your company. One big thing is for people who aren’t in the oilfield. We can teach them skills to get started in a good career with good money.”

NMJC began developing the oil and gas technology program about five years ago with input from 45 local industry leaders, said Tooker, who was hired in December to start up the program.

NMJC has taken major strides in the last six months to make the program a reality, including developing the Oilfield Training Ground, which replicates an oilfield for hands-on instruction. The area includes a dry well pump, tanks, batteries, and an area for the training of CDL drivers.

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“Our goal is to re-enter that well, so we’re going to have 2,000 feet of cased well that we’ll be able to pump liquid out of through our separation equipment into our tanks,” Tooker said. “We’ll be able to simulate a working oilfield location, and it’s going to be safe. You don’t have to worry about fire or gas or anything like that.”

Udall said he first toured the area about three years ago and has been impressed by the strides NMJC has made.

“It’s a great program that has now expanded out,” Udall said. “It’s the kind of thing where junior college and industry can really partner to make a difference on the employment front. We have people that don’t quite have the skill levels (for the oilfield) but with a little bit of training, not a long-term degree, they can get into a very good job.”

Currently the NMJC oil and gas technology program offers five oilfield training courses, four of which are safety based — an overview of the petroleum industry, Occupational Safety and Health Administration oilfield policies, spill prevention, oilfield driving and navigation, and safe land certification. Each course ranges from one day to three weeks, and the student receives a certificate upon completion.

NMJC hopes to eventually have 38 oil and gas technology certification courses for students who want training in areas such as pumping units and chemical pumps, fluid flow and handling, compressors, valves, and acidizing.

For those who want a complete overview of all oilfield operations, NMJC is also conceptualizing coursework for an associate’s degree in oil and gas technology. Courtney Puryear, the director of energy programs at NMJC, said the college is about two years from launching the program and the goal is to have all classes available online.

Lockheed Martin has partnered with NMJC to design computerized courses so students can learn “virtually hands-on.” Puryear said an online course has already been designed to teach students to repair diesel engines.

Puryear is soliciting ideas from oil and gas companies about how best to train students, and she said the degree program is “in the beginning stages.”

Reporter Zack Ponce can be reached at (575) 689-7402.


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