What Direction Should Petroleum Engineering Education Take?
- R.F. Nielsen (Universidad De Oriente)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- February 1968
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 153 - 157
- 1968. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 4.6 Natural Gas, 4.1.6 Compressors, Engines and Turbines, 1.6 Drilling Operations, 4.1.2 Separation and Treating, 1.6.9 Coring, Fishing, 4.1.5 Processing Equipment, 6.1.5 Human Resources, Competence and Training, 1.10 Drilling Equipment
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The future of petroleum engineering education has been a subject of much concern in the last 10 years. There is no doubt that changes are needed to keep up with the new tools of technology and business, and to attract students. The planning of curricula should be governed by the definition of an engineer as a creator for the public good and by the demands of industry, and not so much whether a department or a degree bears the name of a particular industry. Four-year curricula are suggested which lean toward industrial, chemical and mechanical engineering. The engineering student must be introduced to the new computational techniques, numerical analysis, mathematical modeling and the new approaches to decision making and problem solving. A 2-year associate degree program is suggested for those who wish to enter the technical divisions of the industry but whose inclinations do not lean toward the modern 4-year curriculum. Some comments on graduate degrees are presented.
Problem Related to Trends
The drop in enrollment in petroleum engineering departments, the cause of immediate concern about 10 years ago, occurred because graduates generally were limited to one industry. Many have questioned the advisability of continuing the curricula since oil companies can send mechanical or chemical engineering graduates through their training courses and obtain petroleum engineers as good as or better than those with petroleum engineering (PE) degrees. Some PE departments recently were combined with mechanical (ME), chemical (ChE) and other engineering departments. Where PE faculty and curricula (PE options in ME, etc.) always have been integrated with other departments, there certainly is no motive to separate them. Because of doubts regarding the future of PE curricula, young men with advanced PE degrees prefer to accept educational positions where petroleum engineering is strongly integrated with general engineering.
It is time to examine the standard PE curriculum to see whether or not a drastically new viewpoint should be adopted. Originally, parts of the classical ME, ChE and civil engineering (CE) curricula were borrowed, some earth sciences and special petroleum production technologies were added, and the mixture was called Petroleum Engineering. Engineering educators now are putting special emphasis on the definition of an engineer as one who applies the discoveries of science to the comfort and economic benefit of man. Courses and textbooks on subjects such as creative design, general methods of attacking hitherto unsolved problems, systems engineering, optimization, etc., are appearing rapidly. How does the PE graduate fit into these concepts? Certainly he cannot compete with the ME's or with the electrical engineers (EE's) in such areas as the mechanical or electrical design of systems.
There must be ways of fitting PE education into these modern concepts, thereby making it attractive to prospective students. For instance, consider what a petroleum engineer might do as he advances in his company. He may help to decide on the most economical operation of an oil field or a gas field, or he may help design a long pipe line. In this he certainly will not design pumps, compressors or derricks. He does need to have a feeling for economics, statistics, optimization and the combination (system) of physical factors to be considered. This point of view suggests a revision in curriculum, with the addition of courses in statistics, optimization (linear and dynamic programming) and general systems engineering, at the expense of such courses as mechanical design and mechanics of solids, with some revision of the mathematics and physical science sequence. Some mineral engineering educators have advocated more courses in economics, business and management, as well as in optimization methods.
Many people from both industry and education have suggested that, with the advent of thermal and solvent recovery methods, PE instruction should follow more closely that of ChE. For instance, instruction should include more courses in heat and mass transfer at the expense of some courses in solids mechanics. Instead of taking the usual ME thermodynamics, the student would take ChE thermodynamics, which would serve as the basis for study of hydrocarbon phase equilibria, as well as fluid and heat flow and other processes.
It has been suggested that there should be several PE curricula. For example, one could be tailored to rock mechanics and drilling, one to exploration, one to reservoir performance and one to evaluation (including logging. This would split up the already small enrollment unless the subdivisions could be made particularly attractive, or perhaps could be generalized to include exploration and exploitation in areas other than petroleum. To a certain extent, the various schools in the country differ as to what phases of petroleum engineering are emphasized, and perhaps some agreement could be reached to carry these differences further and to advertise their uniqueness.
Degree-wise (i. e., time-wise), there are two directions to go from the 4-year BS degree. One direction is that of more time spent in the education process.
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