The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

State News

May 29, 2013

West Liberty initiative to focus on energy issues

West Liberty University announced Tuesday it is launching a new initiative to study issues facing the coal mining and gas drilling industries, and to develop new academic and professional programs to help create their future leaders.

The Institute for Energy and Commerce will be run by the West Liberty University Research Corp., President Robin C. Capehart said.

Economics professor Michael J. Hicks from Indiana’s Ball State University has agreed to serve as a visiting scholar and a distinguished research fellow.

Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, will serve as the chairman of the institute’s Industry Council. Hamilton is a Wheeling native with nearly 40 years of experience in the mining industry.  Capehart said West Liberty is ideally positioned to lead discussions about energy issues because it’s in both the shale gas region and coal mining country.

“The continuing influence of the coal industry and the rapid growth of the natural gas industry have created both questions and opportunities,” he said, and the institute will be able to respond rapidly to the changing economic world.

Once it’s assembled, the Industry Council will recommend programs the school could consider creating. Those could include, for example, courses or certification programs on safety and environmental issues.

“We may have people who have been in the industry for years and who may be asked to assume leadership positions,” Capehart said. “They don’t necessarily need to go back and get a bachelor’s degree. But they may be able to take one of our certificate programs. It’s clear there is some type of specific training that will be needed.”

Capehart said that in 2007, West Liberty officials met with the region’s health care providers to gauge that industry’s needs. In response, it developed a physician’s assistant program.

“We’re hoping to do the same kind of thing with the rapidly growing energy industry,” he said.

The Industry Council will include not only people who already work in the field, but also those affected by it, such as manufacturers.

“Hopefully we can use this as an opportunity to pull these people together,” he said, “and, first of all, find out what common ground we have.”

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