Business

Wednesday, Jul 18 2012 04:43 PM

Teachers drill down to how oil gets produced

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Betty Burkhard, left, from West High in Torrance and Heather Barnes, right, from Monroe High in Tehachapi, observe the "Make a Groovy Lava Lamp" demonstration Wednesday, at the Reider Learning Center during the "Derricks to Desks" seminar.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Anna Zucker from Orcutt Junior High School near Santa Maria checks out different types of oil samples Wednesday at the Reider Learning Center during the "Derricks to Desks" seminar designed to give in-depth understanding of the petroleum industry to teachers.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    School teachers get some hands-on training at the Reider Learning Center during the "Derricks to Desks" seminar.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Cam Milleson, left, Woodrow Wallace Elementary School teacher from Lake Isabella, and Hector Gutierrez, teacher from Thomas Middle School in Lost Hills, check out some oil samples during Wednesday's "Derricks to Desks" seminar in downtown Bakersfield.

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BY JORGE BARRIENTOS Californian staff writer jbarrientos@bakersfield.com

Aera Energy engineer Matt Kedzierski explained Wednesday to a group of teachers how the prices of oil barrels are set, how to calculate the gravity of oil, and how much it costs companies to make a single drill.

"You can make a good math problem out of all this," said eighth-grade teacher Anna Zucker.

In fact, that's exactly what 30 educators like Zucker from throughout California -- 11 from Kern County -- intend to do with the lessons they've learned this week in the Derricks to Desks program.

The intensive, week-long summer seminar is designed to help teachers learn about the history, technology, geology, economics and ecology of oil in Kern County -- and in turn, carry that knowledge back to their students.

The seminar includes classroom lectures, experiments and field trips to area oil fields, led by local oil companies and industry experts.

They're in the right place for it all. Four of the largest oilfields in the United States are in Kern County, where close to 155 million barrels of oil were produced in 2010, according to program organizers. And the petroleum industry brings experts to Kern in oil technology, geology, engineering, physics, computer science, economics, environmental sciences and a host of related fields.

For Betty Burkhard, high school Advanced Placement environmental science teacher, the seminar provides enough curriculum for weeks. She regularly teaches the basics of plate tectonics and non-renewable energy, and impacts on the environment.

In the seminar, teachers visited a photovoltaic field where workers experimented with solar panels to see which angle garnered the most energy from the sun. It was a real-life example of the scientific method being put to use -- a lesson Burkhard said she will relay to her students at West High School in Torrance.

"I can do complete lessons with what we're learning," Burkhard said. "This is all real-world stuff, and it's all just so interesting."

In Hector Gutierrez's middle school classroom in Lost Hills in northwest Kern -- surrounded by scores of oil rigs -- students regularly tell him they'd like to work in the oilfields one day. But they don't know in what capacity exactly, he said.

He's planning to teach them about the various careers, and what's required to reach them, he said.

Actually, that's one of the many reasons industry officials created the program in the first place -- to inspire the next generation of oil workers, engineers and scientists.

The Derricks to Desks program was started in 1995 by several locally based petroleum groups and companies. They all came to the same conclusion: they needed to reach out to the public and educate them about what the petroleum industry does, and its importance.

They modeled it after another similarly successful industry-focused education seminar put together by the Kern County Farm Bureau.

"The oil industry is a large part of our economy and this community," said Susan Hersberger, spokeswoman for Aera Energy. "There are plenty of people who see the pumping units but really don't know what's going on behind the scenes. By giving teachers the background, it's a way to inform a large segment of our community -- teachers interact with hundreds or thousands of students every year."

She added: "We think this program is making a difference, if nothing else, in the educational awareness. It's a great way to make the connection between what happens in the classroom and what happens in the oil industry."

Derricks to Desks is sponsored by the Western States Petroleum Association and the American Petroleum Institute, San Joaquin Valley Chapter. It costs $75 for teachers to participate.

The teachers' fields trips this week have included local oil fields and the Kern County Museum. The program finishes Thursday with a visit to the coast to learn about offshore oil and gas seeps.

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