OOGEEP director gives insight for educating public on value of oil, gas industry

When most people in the Ohio oil and gas industry hear OOGEEP, they probably associate it with Rhonda Reda – and for good reason. Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, has seen the program grow into a nationally-recognized education initiative –starting more than a decade ago when she was volunteering her time on the side to help get new program off the ground.

Since we had been discussing throughout May how those of you involved in the oil and gas industry can help educate the public on the value of our industry, here’s some tidbits from Rhonda on what exactly OOGEEP does – arguably one of the best public education initiatives the industry has – and some question and answers from our interview.

OOGEEP was originally formed in 1998 as an extension of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association with the intention of providing education materials, curriculums and workshops for schools in Ohio.

With science scores at all-time lows, the industry wanted to help schools improve those scores, as well as have the opportunity to encourage young scientists to pursue careers in the oil and gas industry.

Today, since the organization has grown to stand on its own – it focuses on three things: curriculum, training and scholarships.

OOGEEP has created its own curriculum to help fill the void in science that teachers across the state literally scramble to attend. Registration for the workshop that begins Wednesday in Marietta, Ohio, sold out in less than two weeks.

The curriculum, which is provided at no cost to teachers who attend the workshop, meets not only state and national standards but was also developed by teachers. During the workshops, teachers receive classroom resource materials, supplies, lesson plans, CEU credits and the opportunity to learn hands-on how the industry is connected to science.

In addition to helping teachers meet science needs in the classroom, OOGEEP has also made Ohio the first state to have an emergency response program for fire departments.

“Because there aren’t a lot of emergencies in Ohio, a lot of people don’t know we even have an oil and gas industry,” Reda said.

The curriculum created by industry leaders, firefighters and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources meets state and national fire standards and provides intense workshops to train firefighters with classroom and hands-on training for how to handle live burns of crude and natural gas emergencies.

In the decade since its inception, the emergency response program has helped firefighters from 650 fire departments in 33 Ohio counties and 7 states be trained on how to handle oil and gas fire emergencies. Those involved in the program are also helping other states set up similar programs.

OOGEEP also supports students with a passion for science by providing awards and scholarships. The organization works with the Ohio Academy of Science to award 16 awards at the state science fair each year. The projects students create are awarded based on STEM – science, technology, energy or math topics.

“I like to compare the state science fair to a state athletic competition,” Reda said. “This is a competition for the best and brightest science kids, and we want to encourage them to pursue careers in this industry.”

Reda said the first science fair winner that OOGEEP awarded actually works for the organization today.

Some of the Science Day award winners from this year have projects that include: “The Best Oil Absorbent Clean-Up Analysis,” “The effect of Motor Oil on the Oxygen Production of Freshwater Plants,” “Simulating the Oil Spill: Cleaning Feathers Effectively,” “Is the Energy from a Renewable Biofuel Equivalent to the Energy in the Same Amount of a Nonrenewable Fossil Fuel?” and “Will Oil Change Our Weather?”

OOGEEP also awards annual scholarships at a college level for students who either live in Ohio or attend an Ohio college or university. Students must apply for the scholarships and they can be renewed all four years while they are in school.

Now that you know a little bit about OOGEEP, let’s hear from Rhoda how it started.

Q: How did you get started in the oil and gas industry?

A: Quite by accident. I lived in Marietta and worked for a small producer at the time and then when my family moved to Columbus I stayed in the industry. I served on several committees with OOGA. While I was in southeastern Ohio, I fell in love with the people in our industry and the science of what we do. We really have a great industry here in Ohio.

Q: I attended the Ravenna Tea Party back in February where a client of ours spoke, and you were also there. How often does OOGEEP participate in events like that?

A: I’ve given 36 speeches in the last three months at Tea Party events. There is a lot of propaganda out there in regards to our industry, so we give a lot of public presentations like at the tea parties and for private groups and we sit down with the media to help them understand how our industry really works.

About 95% of the people who attend these events walk away learning that we are a very technical and precise industry – and they are upset that they were protesting things that they didn’t understand or were misinformed about.

Q: What is the most important part about your job?

A: Helping get factual information to the general public and local communities about what we do as an industry. It’s important for us as an industry to be able to provide solid science education in the classrooms and for us to be allowed to be good corporate sponsors through these science awards and scholarships.

Our current workforce in Ohio is also trained in areas of safety – and that’s something we offer free for the industry.

Q: So how are you guys funded if you offer all these things free?

A: I had a feeling you were going to ask that next. We are funded through a check-off program like the Eat Beef or Drink Milk program you’re probably most familiar with that is also funded that way.

We are funded 5 cents for every barrel of crude oil that is produced in the state and 1 cent for every MCF of natural gas. It all goes into a fund that is voluntarily funded by Ohio’s oil and gas producers. No tax dollar goes into any of our programs.

Our Foundation is funded through donations by businesses in the state, which is how we fund our scholarships and awards.

Q: What has the reaction been from the public with what you do?

A: The general public is happy with our public outreach programs and excited that we educate our students and firefighters at no taxpayer expense. Once they learn about what we’re about, they see that the industry really does try to be good corporate stewards and help the community they are in.

Q: What has been the hardest part of your job?

A: Not really having anything to go off of originally. When we started OOGEEP, we started everything from scratch. We had no guidelines on how to create curriculums and training and class materials – we established those ourselves. But I can’t even say that it’s been the hardest part because it’s been so exciting to see every program grow from the beginning.

I guess I would change it to be that we can’t keep up with the demand for our workshops and public presentations.

Q: How many people do you employ?

A: There are three of us on staff.

Q: Wow. No wonder you can’t keep up.

A: We also have a great network of volunteers without which we wouldn’t get everything done that we do, and the two other ladies on staff in the office are just incredible.

Q: How would you recommend or encourage others in the industry to get involved?

A: One, I would say to join our board or be a volunteer for one of our public outreach programs. We always need people in the industry to help. Two, you can help us out at large tradeshows or public events and three; financial support is always helpful as well.

As far as encouragement for how you can do it on your own, we have factsheets on the economics, energy and environmental benefits of our industry that we’ve researched and developed that you can pass out to those you know, or look at to get a good talking point.

It’s so important that we make sure the industry is giving a clear and consistent message to the public on what are values really are and not let the media and others talk for us.

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