Petroleum Engineering Education: The First Half-Century
- Arthur E. Uhl (Institute Of Gas Technology)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- April 1965
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 377 - 386
- 1965. Society of Petroleum Engineers
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- 266 since 2007
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From its beginnings in the courses offered at the U. of Pittsburgh in 1910, to more than a dozen degree-granting departments by the beginning of World War 11 and two dozen in the 1950's, petroleum engineering education has been constantly changing, constantly evolving, even when external aspects, such as curricular structure, appeared static. Displaying a high degree of flexibility in producing the engineers needed in the expanding petroleum industry, petroleum engineering education achieved several notable indexes of success in its first half-century of formal existence. If-and in the comfortable light of hindsight it is quite easy to do so-- arbitrary 10-year periods are chosen to mark phases of development by which to classify this 50-year advance, each decade shows some characteristic trait or traits. And, especially in 10-year spans, the evolutionary changes which have brought petroleum engineering education to the threshold of the 1960's are quite evident.
The petroleum industry began its spectacular rise about the same time as did mineral industry education in this country, but ". . . little more of applied science attended its birth than had attended such ancient practical arts as copper and iron smelting". However, it was not long before the industry brought forth men like Israel C. White, who was to become the first and most outstanding petroleum geologist of his time. White is credited by some as being the first true practicing petroleum engineer, due to his pioneering work in the late 1880's in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Professional petroleum geologists, designated as such, were employed in California by 1897, on the Gulf Coast by 1900, in Mexico before 1910 and in Oklahoma by 1913. These men pioneered in the rational application of chemical, physical and geological principles to the problems of petroleum discovery and production. They also established the necessary recognition of the value of scientifically trained personnel in the producing phases of the industry's operations. Even so, John Franklin Carll, often called the "father of petroleum engineering", practiced his profession without benefit of formal certification. He was a self-taught civil engineer and geologist, and, though outstanding in his contributions to the developing technology of petroleum production, was not unusual among early oil field engineers either in background or degree of formal technical training. Carll and his compatriots, meeting necessity with invention, drew on their diverse backgrounds in a dozen or more disciplines to establish the range of applicable fundamentals and develop the code of practice that eventually gave birth to formal petroleum engineering studies. Their knowledge and experience were transmitted to their apprentices--an increasing proportion of them university trained in geology or engineering--through articles and pamphlets, and in dozens of informal courses and study groups, which convened with increasing frequency in the early 1900's. Early AIME papers and USGS reports became the repository of much of this practical technology.
In the early 1900's, the rapid growth of the industry naturally stimulated the application of science to the problems of the industry, and more and more formally trained men found their practice in the growing oil industry. Thus, it was inevitable that universities and schools of mines should consider organizing programs of study in petroleum technology. Eventually, in 1910, the U. of Pittsburgh took the necessary steps.
The Emergence of a Discipline (1910-1920)
Formal studies in petroleum technology, it is generally agreed, began at the U. of Pittsburgh with the seven courses in oil and gas geology, technology and law offered there in 1910. Although H.C. Batchley, apparently petroleum engineering's first publicist, had announced the advent of the new discipline as early as 1911, the first petroleum engineering degrees were not granted until 1915. At that time, three of the four students completing the formal program at Pitt chose to accept the new degree designation. The fourth man requested the more conventional designation, Engineer of Mines.
After Pitt, in the period 1910-1920, eight more of the present petroleum engineering departments had their conception or birth, either as full degree-granting curricular entities or as a core of petroleum courses growing to curricular status. California, Missouri Mines, West Virginia, Stanford, MIT, Colorado Mines, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and UCLA scheduled their first courses in petroleum technology in this decade.
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