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Students reap advantages of oil and gas boom

The energy business in Pennsylvania is expanding rapidly. According to a report by the Department of Energy, natural gas reserves in Pennsylvania more than doubled in 2010 and increased 90% in 2011. Meet five Penn State Law students who are taking advantage of classes in oil and gas law, shale gas development policy, and energy law to prepare for careers in the field.
Five students reap advantages of oil and gas boom

The energy business in Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S. is expanding rapidly. According to a report by the Department of Energy, natural gas reserves in Pennsylvania more than doubled in 2010 and increased 90% in 2011. Several Penn State Law students are taking advantage of classes such as Oil and Gas, Law and Policy of Shale Gas Development, and Energy Law and Policy to prepare for careers in the field.

Joe Negaard, Sarah Lederach, Thomas Panighetti, Emily Overfield, and Sarah Black have completed internships within the industry and have identified their post-graduation career plans in the oil and gas industry.

“We are in the center of shale activity,” said Professor Ross Pifer, who researches shale gas development and the interface between agricultural and residential development. “There is a lot of research being done at Penn State and law students are able to take advantage of all of the resources that the University offers.” Pifer directs the Rural Economic Development Clinic and the Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center. Students studying oil and gas law have gained valuable experience in reviewing and advising landowners on oil and gas leases. Pifer said Penn State is “an ideal law school” to study oil and gas law.

Sarah Black

Third-year student Sarah Black majored in religious studies at the University of Virginia before deciding to go to law school. The Pittsburgh native decided to study oil and gas because her parents are in the industry and she enjoyed Professor Pifer’s oil and gas class.

She also enjoys the topic because it is a rapidly expanding industry in Pennsylvania. “You can get hands on work quickly and have a lot of responsibility,” said Black. “There is a lot of opportunity to be involved at a ground level.” Last summer Black earned experience in oil and gas law working for Range Resources in the land department, where she dealt with leasing and litigation management. Black noticed that about half of the interns employed by Range Resources were Penn State students or alumni. She said Penn State Law is “the perfect place to study oil and gas, not only because of the great education but because of the connections you can make in the energy community.” Black added that students interested in oil and gas should take advantage of all the opportunities at Penn State.

Looking forward, Black plans on being a part of expanding the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania. She has accepted a position at Range Resources working as a “landman” and expects to begin in August 2014. 


Joe Negaard

Joe Negaard grew up on a ranch in central Montana. Growing up, he didn’t plan on going to college, let alone law school. After working as a paralegal in the U.S. Army, Negaard decided he wanted to study law. He graduated from Montana State University-Bozeman in 2010 with a degree in political science. One year later, he decided to attend Penn State Law because of its strength in agricultural law.

Working toward a focus in agriculture, Negaard spent last summer as a research assistant for Professor Pifer’s Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center. During the four-month stint, he shifted his focus from agriculture to oil and gas law. Negaard looks for the industry to expand exponentially in Pennsylvania. “It’s a neat time to be in oil and gas law because everything is volatile and developing,” Negaard said. “How cases play out now will affect oil and gas law for a long time.”

Negaard is a legal intern at Rex Energy Corporation in State College, Pa. He provides support for attorneys and said it is fun to work at Rex because he faces new challenges every day. Negaard is also a co-founder of the Agriculture Law Society and a co-founder of the Military Law Caucus.

When he isn’t busy working or studying, Negaard enjoys spending time with his wife and renovating his home in Philipsburg, Pa. After graduation from Penn State Law in 2014, Negaard will begin his new job as a corporate counsel at Rex. Throughout his career, Negaard wants to help as many people as possible. “I grew up in a small rural community and you see a lot of poverty. My mission is to help, said Negaard. 

Sarah Lederach

Sarah Lederach attended Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. where she majored in history. Her interest in law came from her father, who is a lawyer. From a young age, she wanted to follow in his footsteps. When her father began practicing oil and gas litigation in 2008, Lederach decided it was the area of law she wanted to study at Penn State Law.

Now a third-year student, she has loved her time in State College. “Not only is the education great, but so are the people you meet along the way,” said Lederach. “We have a wonderful staff of professors and a wonderful town.”

Lederach recently finished her summer internship at Atlas Energy in Pittsburgh. At Atlas, she primarily worked with lease agreements in the land department. During her time at Penn State Law, Lederach polished her courtroom skills at the National Environmental Moot Court Competition in White Plains, NY, an experience she describes as "challenging, exciting, and fun."

As for advice for students interested in oil and gas law, Lederach says it’s important to be knowledgeable. “Learn as much as you can, when you can,” she said. “Never stop looking for new information on oil and gas law and never miss a good opportunity.” Lederach plans to continue her career in oil and gas law in the Pittsburgh area.


Thomas Panighetti

Thomas Panighetti has been interested in oil and gas law for a long time because he grew up with oil and gas leases on his family’s property. He initially wanted to be a doctor or a professor until he shadowed an assistant district attorney in his hometown of Erie, Pa. The experience convinced him to pursue law instead. 

Panighetti chose Penn State Law because the attorneys he spoke with highly recommended the school. By studying oil and gas, he combines two of his passions: science and law. He is pleased to be part of the re-emerging energy industry in Pennsylvania. “Without a doubt there is no legal practice right now that is as booming as oil and gas, especially for young attorneys to get into and become experts in their field,” said Panighetti.

To become an expert in the industry, Panighetti said it is important to gain a well-rounded perspective on oil and gas by talking to land owners, visiting well sites, and learning the science behind the law. Panighetti plans to keep working hard after graduation this May. He summered at Jones Day in Pittsburgh after his second year of law school and accepted a position at Jones Day to begin next year. 


Emily Overfield

Emily Overfield studied print journalism and business at the University of Texas at Austin. During her freshman year, Overfield decided to pursue a career in law because she wanted something more challenging. Overfield’s father works for ExxonMobil, so the oil and gas industry is nothing new to her. She remembers going to ExxonMobil parties and family picnics as a child. Being around the business for so long, she learned a lot about energy and decided to study oil and gas law.

Overfield wanted to move from Texas to the Northeast and said Penn State was the perfect place for her to study. “Penn State Law has a great environment,” she said. “There is a sense of collaboration among the students and professors.” In law school, she has found the challenge that she craved.

After her 2L summer, Overfield continued her work in oil and gas at Chesapeake Energy in the land department. During her internship she reviewed oil and gas leases and prepared presentations for three land vice presidents. In oil and gas law, Overfield said having precision and the ability to multitask are important skills.

One of her most memorable moments of law school was working as an intern at the Family Law Clinic, providing free legal help for domestic issues. During her time at the clinic, Overfield remembered one particularly challenging case. She thought the case would be unsuccessful, but was able to negotiate an unexpected settlement for her client. It was the first time she "felt like a lawyer."

Overfield hopes to continue her career in Wilmington, Delaware or Philadelphia after graduating in May using her expertise in oil and gas law at a mid-sized law firm.

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