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Texas college engineering students help Houston energy firms tap more oil

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Written by: Benjamin Wermund

Click HERE to Read the Article by the Publisher.


Program offers ‘elite’ internships at energy firms

Ned Thomas spent his summer helping Occidental Petroleum in Houston have a better understanding of what the future life of young oil wells will look like.

Thomas, 26, who is working toward a master’s degree in petroleum engineering at Texas A&M, is one of 16 A&M and University of Texas students who worked as part of a new college internship program trying to find ways to produce more oil on the University Lands, 2.1 million acres of oil fields in West Texas that belong to the two universities. Money made off the oil from the wells supplies the Permanent University Fund, one of the nation’s largest university endowments, which supports UT and A&M.

“These are elite-level appointments, akin to what a Wall Street internship would mean for business students, and the experience and exposure for students is invaluable,” UT Regent Jeffrey Hildebrand said. “They are solving real-world challenges facing the (energy) industry today and the industry is benefitting from the latest, cutting-edge research.”

The student interns comb data on the West Texas wells, looking for ways to make them more productive or last longer. It’s the type of work typically done by the research and development employees that oil companies have laid off during the slump, said Jeff Spath, who runs the newly formed Texas Oil and Gas Institute in Houston.

“Powerful” leverage

If the engineering students in the competitive internship program find a way to make one more oil well in West Texas produce 1 million more barrels of oil, the rich Permanent University Fund would instantly increase by about $10 million.

The oil companies that run the 494 wells that were running on the University Lands last year, such as Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, would see profits jump by about $40 million.

“This is a lot of money that stays in Texas and displaces checks written to the Saudis,” UT Regent Alex Cranberg said, after doing a quick calculation of the financial effects the 16 engineering students in the internship program this summer could have. “The leverage right here is powerful.”

Precursor to expansion

The first round of internships at the oil and gas institute wrapped up Friday.

In some ways, the institute is a precursor of UT’s planned expansion into Houston, where the UT System plans to build on a 300-acre tract. Plans for the institute stretch back beyond the latest expansion plans, which University of Houston officials have called an “invasion” and which have been questioned by numerous state lawmakers. UT was planning the internship program for at least a year before Chancellor William McRaven announced UT would buy the Houston land.

The internship program was developed after a 2013 report found that Texas needs 9,000 more engineers every year. UT, which now educates about half of the state’s engineers, can help carry the load, the report said. And Houston, rich with industry opportunities from the Texas Medical Center to energy companies, could be key to accomplishing that goal.

Students marketable

The institute, already eyeing an expansion, asked officials at Occidental if they could accommodate more interns going forward. They eagerly asked how many more they could have, Spath said.

The experience will hopefully make the students more marketable to employers once they graduate. The work Thomas has done at Occidental this summer is more hands-on than some of his peers, he said.

“You don’t really feel like an intern,” Thomas said. “You feel like it’s your job.”


Tags: oilgasenergyPetroleum


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Written by: Benjamin Wermund

Click HERE to Read the Article by the Publisher.

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