WVU Tech to oil and gas industry pipeline remains strong
Alumni feature: Tom Westfall, Vice President of Gas Supply and Technical Services, Mountaineer Gas Company
The future in the oil and gas industry is bright, and there are plenty of WVU Tech grads at the helm of Mountaineer Gas Company to help propel the industry forward.
Westfall, a Clendenin, West Virginia native, graduated from WVU Tech in 1992 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He has spent the bulk of his career, almost 29 years, with Mountaineer Gas Company and is now the Vice President of Gas Supply and Technical Services.
“My first job out of college was as a staff engineer on a construction project in a chemical plant and after the project was over, I started putting out my resume. I ended up with an entry-level union position at Mountaineer. I spent four years doing field work before getting a corporate engineering job at Mountaineer,” he explains.
Westfall eventually earned his master’s degree from Marshall University and was the President of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. That organization merged with the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia (IOGA) in January of 2021 to create the Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia (GO-WV). Westfall was Co-President of GO-WV until this past summer.
In his current role, Westfall oversees engineering, gas supply, measurement, gas control, dispatch and some regulatory services throughout the company.
“I think my favorite part of my job is seeing a project go from conception through construction and operation - being able to see the whole process and feel good about the replacement or renewal of infrastructure, or a brand-new pipeline extension to serve brand new customers. It’s good to see the whole process,” he says.
Westfall works with many Tech grads, including his boss, the President of Mountaineer Gas Company, the General Manager of Engineers, and many on the engineering staff. They’re not all mechanical engineers, as Westfall started out, but a combination of mechanical, civil and other types of engineering that help make the whole company work.
As a prospective college student, Westfall said he excelled at math and science and had a lot of friends that went to Tech. Plus, it was close to home.
“As simple as that sounds, that’s how I made my decision to come to Tech,” he says.
But, he says he feels that he got a great education and was prepared to enter the workforce.
“I feel like I got a great education at Tech. I also enlisted in the Army Reserve during college, and between my Army experience and my education, I felt like I was well prepared after graduation. I got out of the Army Reserves after eight years. From an educational perspective, the student-teacher ratio was great and I had a lot of direct, personal instruction and what I believe was a lot more practical application of the theory. I had a lot of good professors and at the time, many of them had industry experience along with the academic perspective,” he explained.
Mountaineer Gas Company, owned by Pennsylvania-based energy utility company UGI, is headquartered in Charleston, with 100% of its customer base in West Virginia. While the utility industry hasn’t changed much during his career, Westfall says that the oil and gas industry in the state has changed significantly. Most notably, West Virginia has been procuring natural gas from Marcellus and Utica shale. The development of hydraulic fracturing and drilling technologies has also changed how oil and gas are obtained throughout the region. He says the energy sector is growing, and not just in the oil and gas industry.
“I think the outlook for the oil and natural gas industry is great. I think the energy infrastructure business in general – whether it be gas, electric or renewables, the energy sector is very strong and will remain that way for many years. The use of energy in the United States is not going away. A lot of career opportunities, whether it is in gas, electric, renewables or even water utilities, there’s a ton of engineering need and investment in the infrastructure, and a bright future in it,” he says.
Westfall encourages anyone interested in engineering in the industry to gain experience.
“I would encourage any kind of internship or field experience to go along with your engineering education. I know it’s probably obvious to a lot of folks but starting at the ground level really ties together all your education and theory with real-world implementation of the engineering. Literally, maybe even starting at the ground level with a shovel”, he says with a laugh.
Westfall currently resides in Charleston with his wife, also a WVU Tech alumna.