John Hoopingarner

As the price of oil took a nosedive in 1983 and 1984, many oil workers lost their jobs and did not return once the market recovered, said director of the Petroleum Extension Service at UT John Hoopingarner.

With a shortage of middle-aged workers and increasing demand to fill open positions with younger people, PETEX has expanded its Houston location to increase capacity.

To help bridge the age gap in skilled oil field workers, PETEX recently opened a new, larger Houston location to offer adult education services that will help the organization train more students, Hoopingarner said.

“We teach mainly people who are new in the industry,” Hoopingarner said. “There are not a lot of guys between the ages of 35 and 50 in the field. The guys going into their 60s want to retire.”

The idea of the oil industry as a bad career move has changed, chemical engineering junior Alexander Wong said.

“I talk to a lot of people going into the petroleum field,” Wong said. “There is a lot of demand for that. Oil is going to be around for 50 or more years, so career-wise I’ve been told it is a good move.”

The new Houston facility has increased capacity by 50 percent to help keep up with growing demand, Hoopingarner said.

PETEX spokeswoman Debby Denehy said the site was much more appropriate for teaching than the old location at a Lone Star College campus.

“It’s an over 3,000 square feet facility retrofitted for our needs,” Denehy said. “We added a classroom. We will be able to better serve our students trying to get certificates and continuing education hours.”

Dan Comstock, instructor at the facility, said the new space also allows PETEX to work inside with equipment. He said outdoor limitations hindered productivity before.

“It has more room in it and it is indoors,” Comstock said. “When it’s windy, papers don’t get blown away. When it’s rainy, we can still have class.”

Comstock encourages students who have an interest in the petroleum field to explore the center’s programs.

“I tell students if they want something that is rewarding, challenging and just a great contribution to society then the oil field is for them,” Comstock said.

Printed on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 as: Austin Petroleum Extension Service expands to Houston