U.S. Oil Predictions Inspire Next Generation of Petroleum Engineers
Texas Tech welcomes oil boom with new building and modern research facilities.
Written by Karin Slyker
Texas Tech University alumna Jamie Castagno never was afraid to get her hands dirty. That is why she opted for a career in petroleum engineering.
“The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, because my dad is also a graduate from Texas Tech Petroleum Engineering,” said Castagno, a 2011 graduate employed as a production engineer with Chevron. “And as a woman engineer, I know I can bring a different perspective to the table, with opportunities to develop new technologies and influence our ever-growing energy market.”
Castagno is among a growing population of women now entering the field, and just in time. The Energy Information Administration figures indicate that for the first time in 20 years, U.S. oil production in November 2012 averaged more than 7 million barrels a day. The International Energy Agency estimates the U.S. could become the world’s biggest oil producer by 2020, or sooner.
With this oil boom, Texas Tech’s Whitacre College of Engineering welcomes a new era in petroleum engineering education and operations education.
“Students are following the money,” said department chair Marshall Watson, Bob L. Herd Department of Petroleum Engineering.
New Building Ushers in New Era
Texas Tech’s petroleum engineering department is one of the largest in the country, averaging more than 700 undergraduate students. That number may increase after Spring 2014, following the opening of a new $20 million facility.
“The new building will offer 40,000 square feet of modern classroom and research space,” Watson said. “Students will learn techniques in a hands-on environment.”
Techniques include hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” where large high-pressure volumes of fluid are injected at rock formations to open them up for production. A team of Texas Tech researchers, led by George P. Livermore Chair and Professor Mohamed Soliman, recently developed and filed patents for two new fracturing techniques that would cost the same, but maximize output and increase the return.
The new Apache Upstream Research Center will be an important aspect of the new Petroleum Engineering Research Building’s laboratories, focused on the latest environmentally responsible fracturing techniques including horizontal well drilling, rock mechanics, the energy-water nexus, wellbore integrity and well cementing. Research will be conducted in the center by faculty members from multiple engineering disciplines and will advance the leading edge of fracturing procedures and environmentally responsible practices.
The Next Generation of Petroleum Engineers
“I am amazed at the current state of the oil and gas industry,” said Jared Ivanhoe, a 2010 Texas Tech petroleum engineering graduate. “What was once unconventional a few years ago is now conventional and safer than ever. We should all be energized about the domestic oil and gas opportunities we have in our own backyards.”
Ivanhoe, who was born and raised in West Texas and now is based in Midland as a production engineer for Chevron, and Castagno fit the profile Watson says is typical of engineering candidates today.
“The majority of our students are from rural areas with that ‘roll-up your sleeves’ mentality, with a hard work ethic,” Watson said. “The Whitacre College of Engineering has a long reputation for producing graduates that you can put right to work.”
Bob Berry, a 2008 graduate and drilling engineer for Range Resources in Fort Worth, credits Texas Tech’s petroleum engineering program and the diversity in experience among professors with the solid foundation he needed to enter the industry and make an immediate impact.
“The technical education included a thorough technical communications skills course, which is key in today’s petroleum industry environment,” Berry said. “Employers are looking for engineers who are not only able to develop designs, but present their findings to management in a concise and professional manner.”
Oil Boom Brings Booming Opportunity
As the industry continues to expand, petroleum engineers can now boast one of the best-paid postgraduate jobs on the market. And with at least 40 percent of them set to retire over the next decade, there is a shortage of graduates available to support the industry’s ambitious growth.
“The diversity of the professors’ experience in Texas Tech’s Petroleum Engineering department gives Tech students an advantage coming out of college,” Berry said. “The technical aspects of the engineering and drilling courses, as well as the practical discussions in the class room and drilling fluids lab, were instrumental. Texas Tech provided me with a solid foundation from which to build.”
Watson says the petroleum engineering students are known have been known to eat, work and study together, with a strong sense of comradery.
“They are a tight-knit group, and I encourage that,” said Watson. “I want to see them graduate with a strong sense of dedication to their field and a love for Texas Tech.”
View his profile in our online Expert Profile.
Whitacre College of Engineering
The Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering has educated engineers to meet the technological needs of Texas, the nation and the world since 1925.
Approximately 4,300 undergraduate and 725 graduate students pursue bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees offered through eight academic departments: civil and environmental, chemical, computer science, electrical and computer, engineering technology, industrial, mechanical and petroleum.