Colorado School of Mines, Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and the University of Texas at Austin (UT) on Thursday launched a shale natural gas and oil training development initiative, which initially would be funded with separate $1 million grants from ExxonMobil Corp. and GE.

The training programs created through the initiative would be led by faculty at each academic institution, which, coincidentally, are in states where massive unconventional drilling programs are under way.

"Regulators have said that the need for increased training is one of their highest priorities due to the rapid expansion of shale resource development, and the equally active evolution of technologies and best practices in the field," said UT's Gary Pope, who directs the Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering.

Thomas Murphy, co-director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, said, "the Shale Gas Regulators Training program affords the university a unique opportunity to further develop shale gas best management practices and to offer new regulators the chance to learn the latest science-based concepts related to geology, petroleum technology and environmental quality."

The series of courses, which primarily would focus on the development of shale resources, are to cover:

"America's shale energy resources are creating jobs and economic growth in regions across the country, and Americans rightly want to know that these resources are being produced safely and responsibly," said ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt said natural gas was "dramatically changing the way we power America, and GE is committed to its responsible development. We believe advanced technology, an expert workforce and smart regulation are the keys to America leading the world in shale gas development.

"As a technology leader in the energy sector, GE recognizes the importance of minimizing a site's environmental footprint while simultaneously increasing operational efficiency."

Although hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling and other technologies used to produce shale resources are not new, "they are being used today on a larger scale than ever before," noted the GE and ExxonMobil chiefs. "Therefore, it is critical that regulators and policymakers have access to a sound scientific understanding of shale energy development and are fully aware of the technologies required to produce these resources safely and efficiently, while protecting the environment."

GE said it produces "nearly 40 technologies for the shale resource sector in areas such as mobile and fixed water filtration, flare gas capture and reuse, cleaner on-site power generation and demand-side solutions that create liquefied natural gas or compressed natural gas for applications such as in truck fleets."

ExxonMobil is the largest natural gas producer in the United States and it has an estimated eight million net acres in North America. The producer holds a significant position in the production of shale resources in Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma and North Dakota, as well as the Horn River Basin of Canada.