As Industry Changes, So Does Petroleum Engineering Education
- Judy Feder (JPT Technology Editor)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- December 2019
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 44 - 48
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As the oil and gas industry becomes increasingly complex, the requirements for petroleum engineers—and petroleum engineering education—are changing.
“Petroleum engineering jobs in the future are likely to be smaller in number and radically different from those of today,” wrote Nathan Meehan, president of Gaffney, Cline and Associates and 2016 SPE President, in paper SPE 194746, The End of Petroleum Engineering As We Know It. “The next generation of petroleum engineers will have to address demands for sustainability, lower carbon intensity, and needs for radical productivity improvements, which only artificial intelligence (AI) and digital can drive. This suggests that we will need to revisit university education for petroleum engineers and all aspects of career development and training.”
Petroleum engineering education reflects the E&P industry it serves. Training of competent graduates with both the domain and digital knowledge to immediately contribute when they join the industry has become more complicated as expectations change. What are petroleum engineering schools doing to adapt to these changes, and how are they helping their students navigate a future career in the oil and gas industry?
Balancing Theory and Practical Application
A survey by Ryder Scott Petroleum Consultants identified the need to modify the skills and knowledge currently taught in academic institutions during undergraduate study. Ryder Scott surveyed clients who were industry managers or supervisors with direct experience with newly minted petroleum engineering graduates (fewer than 5 years of experience). The survey asked participants—engineering managers in the oil and gas reserves sector—their opinions regarding the preparedness of recent graduates entering the workforce (Fig. 1).
Generally, the respondents were satisfied with the amount of theory being taught, but not with the amount of practical application of petroleum engineering principles. The consensus was that curricula should be kept the same in terms of courses, but modernized to include the practical application of new technologies.
This presents a significant challenge for engineering education programs whose already-full curricula to meet requirements of the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) leave little room for additional coursework, labs, or field work. The current requirement for a BS degree in petroleum engineering at most schools is 130-plus credit hours. Yet, in addition to fundamentals, today’s graduates are expected to be fluent in data analytics, machine learning, and data sciences and to understand concepts such as cyber security and physical security. In addition, many are expected to use their subsurface engineering skills to plan and design carbon sequestration solutions.
“We teach students the fundamentals of petroleum engineering,” said Jeff Spath, SPE 2014 President and head of the Texas A&M University Petroleum Engineering Department. “But more importantly, we teach them to solve petroleum engineering problems.”
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