SALEM - Two Ohio State University students from the Mahoning Valley have watched the once dim economic landscape of their hometown brighten and founded an organization aimed at making the most of the shale bonanza.
The Buckeye Shale Energy Organization is a student group in its second year at the university with a goal to reach out to the oil and gas industry, as well as other students.
The network was founded by Vince Melillo, president of the BSEO, and Alex Sava the organizations' treasurer. They are both from the Youngstown area.
Melillo, an upperclassman, said, "What we're doing is essentially gathering up people who are from our state who want to stay here and make Ohio into a great oil and gas producer."
Sava is a fifth-year engineering student interested in the growing shale play.
"I think there are a lot of great opportunities coming from Ohio, western Pa., all around here. Students are going to have a lot of job opportunities from these companies," he said.
BESO is comprised of students in engineering and geology under the leadership of Dr. Jeff Daniels of OSU's School of Earth Sciences.
The goal is to educate interested students on the vast opportunities shale development offers and to connect dedicated students with interested employers.
Daniels emphasizes that while the students are promoting the incredible potential that lies in the Utica Shale, they are also promoting the safe practices used by oil and gas developers to extract those resources.
With the shale boom occurring the middle of his childhood home, Melillo said, "All of this is particularly exciting for me as a college student."
Sava left the Youngstown area in 2008 and put it this way: "Based on seeing a portion of the money being invested, the Utica and Marcellus Shale plays are a potential and sustainable solution for our country's energy needs.
"Energy from shale development is estimated to be able to supply the United States for 100 years."
Chesapeake Energy has spent about $3.3 billion in Ohio and its chairman, Aubrey McClendon, has called Carroll and Columbiana counties the "core of the core" in the Utica Shale Play.
Daniel Alfaro, the communications director for Energy in Depth (EID), the Ohio project, said the idea is to get communities and the workforce, young and old, engaged in the oil and gas opportunities.
"Development has not really kicked off ... not until 2015," Alfaro said.
"These kids want to be at the forefront."
According to its website, EID was launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) in 2009, "as an outreach and education campaign focused on researching, explaining and (when needed) setting the record straight on the promise and potential of onshore energy development in America."
It added, "And just in case you haven't heard: Here in Ohio, that promise is as great as anywhere else in the entire country."
Alfaro said studies have projected some 200,000 jobs will be associated with the shale boom.
Even with the U.S. Chamber's recent study highlighting the 38,000 jobs have already been created by the industry to date, Alfaro explained.
"We are only beginning to scratch the surface, and these students actively engaging with an industry that is going to be a driving force in Ohio's future prosperity should be applauded for their efforts," he said.
Permit and drilling activity has been brisk in Carroll and Columbiana counties which account for half the permits issued statewide, but EID said "for all the excitement these new and traditional oil and natural gas 'plays' have generated in our state ... successfully converting that potential into jobs, revenue and opportunity for everyday Ohioans will require a whole lot more than drill bits and pressure treatments."
Alfaro said, "This (BSEO) is exactly the kind of proactive approach we are all striving for."
He added, "With over 200,000 jobs projected over the coming years as a result of shale development, it is the priority of the industry to continue working with schools, students and communities to ensure Ohioans are in the best possible position to take advantage of the incredible opportunities our natural resources afford.
"It will require a sustained, coordinated and perhaps unprecedented effort aimed at explaining the way energy development works who does what, where and how, and what steps will be taken to ensure our air, water, land and surrounding environment are protected."
Sava explained, "I'm not a political analyst, nor an economist but I believe that this shale is one of the most encouraging developments to hit the Youngstown area since the steel industry of the past.
"While other students getting ready to graduate from college might be worried about their prospects, the Utica Shale has made students in my field confident about their future."
Larry Shields can be reached at email@example.com