By Jamison Cocklin
Vince Melillo didn’t see a whole lot of career opportunities in Northeast Ohio, especially within his field of study, civil engineering, and definitely not near his hometown of Niles.
But in 2011, when Melillo, 22, a fourth-year student at Ohio State University, started work as an engineering intern in Cleveland, he noticed something peculiar taking place throughout Northeast Ohio.
Melillo was astounded by the pace and near ubiquity of the oil and gas industry’s exploration and production efforts in the Utica Shale formation near the state’s eastern border. With its rich stores of wet gas and the potential to transform the state’s economy and his future, Melillo knew he wanted to be a part of the action.
“More and more, I was noticing this in the news,” Melillo said. “Obviously, as an engineering student, I took an interest in it, and when I went back to Ohio State, I was keeping my eyes open for things.”
Melillo eventually attended a shale-gas event in Columbus, where he was introduced to Jeff Daniels, a professor of earth sciences at OSU and director of the Subsurface Energy Resource Center on campus.
Soon thereafter, with the help of Daniels and friend Alex Sava, 23, also of Niles, the Buckeye Shale Energy Organization was formed in early October 2011.
Ohio State boasts more than 1,000 student organizations. But the BSEO, as it is referred to, is the first of its kind there.
But if you ask Melillo, who now serves as the organization’s president, the group was overdue.
“To sum it up, the industry doesn’t view public [universities] in Ohio as being particularly strong in providing it with a workforce,” Melillo said candidly. “At least not the way they view the University of Texas, the University of Oklahoma or the Colorado School of Mines.”
That might be surprising to learn, considering that there are 2,456 wells producing in the state and 4,232 wells drilled into the Utica and Marcellus shale formations here, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Melillo said the practice needs to change. He believes Ohio’s students should be the first to benefit from a shale play that has not even come close to its full potential. Connecting Ohio’s young talent with an industry expected to have a growing presence in the state is just one of the BSEO’s goals.
“I have a lot of pride in Niles and Youngstown, and I have a lot of pride in Ohio,” he said. “I want to make sure we can reap all the benefits we can out of this industry, and I don’t want those companies looking elsewhere for engineers and employees.”
But beyond providing a link between the industry and students at OSU, the BSEO has carefully carved out its mission statement in the year since its inception.
With its biweekly meetings, field trips and public events, the young organization is sharply focused on straddling a fine line between environmental advocate, industry outreach and educating anyone it can about an industry and its operations, which seem to be unfolding with more complexity in the state month by month.
“When we can inform students and the public in a positive way about this industry, about energy in general, about environmental issues, then we’re doing our jobs as educators and students,” said Daniels, who serves as the organization’s faculty adviser.
To date, interest in the organization has grown. At the end of last year, the BSEO had 29 members. At last count in early October, Melillo said it was up to 125.
At its biweekly meetings, the organization brings in professors or industry experts to discuss various topics. The group also tries to interact off campus with trips to the statehouse and an upcoming visit to a drilling site.
On Nov. 8, the BSEO will bring more than 20 private companies and industry organizations involved in oil and gas to OSU for its first major networking event. The BSEO will collect resumes from attendees and then distribute them to companies, which in some instances will pay more than $150 to participate.
Funded by a combination of private donations and money from the university’s student organization fund, the BSEO is working to fulfill an academic niche that is becoming more important with each passing day.
Several studies predict the amount of jobs created in Ohio in the next decade due to shale drilling will range between 20,000 and more than 200,000.
“I think it’s important to be proactive going forward,” said Drew Janek, an engineering student at OSU and operations manager for the BSEO. “This industry will need more geologists and engineers, and our group provides an opportunity for students to come together and start a strong base for OSU to be part of that future.”
When Melillo brought the group together, it inadvertently attracted a flock of leading officers from Northeast Ohio. Janek is from Medina. Other officers are from Chagrin, Lisbon, Campbell and Columbiana. Most of them, studying engineering, met in classes on campus, and the group was able to form a leadership with a vested interest in finding work in the Ohio oil and gas industry after graduation.
But the BSEO also strives to be inclusive. It closely mirrors an industry that relies on a host of professions to achieve success. Business, marketing and geology students have all signed on as members of the BSEO.
Before graduating, Sava, the group’s treasurer and a founding member, said younger members will be assigned to officer positions, and both Sava and Melillo will stay in touch through an advisory role after commencement to ensure the group’s longevity at OSU.
“My whole life, I always saw the pictures and heard how great Youngstown used to be,” Melillo said. “I can’t imagine a better situation to be a part of than an industry that’s helping to bring the Mahoning Valley back. It’s 100 percent why I started this group in the first place.”