When it comes to providing students “real-world” experience in the classroom, some schools stand out more than others.
Consider the University of Kansas, where one interdisciplinary course teams geoscience and petroleum engineering students to analyze live data from partnering oil companies.
“Each year, instructors approach a company that has a mature field, where there is relatively good data available and the company needs to take some next steps, either drilling some new wells or designing and implementing a waterflood to optimize production,” said AAPG member Bob Goldstein, a past winner of the AAPG Foundation’s Professorial Award, associate dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the geology department’s Haas Distinguished Professor.
AAPG members Tim Carr and Tony Walton, along with Don Green, inaugurated the course about 15 years ago. Green has since retired, and Carr now teaches at the University of West Virginia. Walton continues to teach the course with Reza Barati and others.
“I enjoyed teaching this course more than any other over my career. It was great to work with Tony in the development and teaching of the course,” Green said. ”It is one in which students reinforce their understanding of reservoir engineering and geology principles that were studied in earlier courses in the respective programs, and bring those principles to bear on a real-world problem.”
It is a graduate course for geoscience students and the capstone class for engineering undergraduate students, Walton said.
Working in a lab designed specifically for the class, students use company-supplied data to complete a full characterization of the reservoir, perform a history match and run a dynamic model.
State-of-the art industry software is used.
Students work in separate three-member teams. This spring’s course had 33 students divided into 11 teams, Walton said.
“The neat part is it involves a real field,” Barati said.
After modeling and history matching, students do economic investigation and evaluation of the project, “then look at any differences and see if they can improve (production), or what could have been done earlier with the information of today,” he added.
“At the end of the semester, the students pitch their recommendations to the company,” Goldstein said. “Imagine the communication experience they get in doing this. As you might imagine, there is a fair amount of nervous energy in the room at the end of the presentations when those professionals, who had been working the field for years, start asking the students questions. What great preparation for the real world.”
In some cases, companies have implemented some version of the recommendations.
In other cases, the students’ findings match or reinforce the companies’ own plans.
“Commonly, the companies have gotten something of value to them,” Walton said.
“I love it,” Barati said of teaching the course.
“Every time, it’s a new project so you never get bored,” he said. “Every time you teach it, you learn something yourself.”
Typically, the areas studied are small fields common in Kansas, including about 10 wells, Walton said.
“Because there’s so much to cover in class, we really can’t deal with large numbers. It’s not possible in terms of manpower and the amount the students have to learn – or relearn!” he said.
Data studied include 3-D seismic, well histories, drilling completion and production records and oil, gas and water figures, Walton said.
“Logs are provided by the company, plus we have access to those from the Kansas Geological Survey and the Kansas Geological Society. Also we have logs from other state agencies when working in those states,” he said.
“Many times cores are available and we can get full core reports,” Walton continued.
The instructors are familiar with the region and feel comfortable dealing with most of the students’ questions, he added.
If not, they can go back to the participating companies for additional information.
Barati said teaming geoscience and engineering students and using real data is good preparation. He said several graduates have said their first assignment after landing a job was “pretty much like what they did in this course.”
“Students learn a lot about communication with one another and performing in a team, with both geoscientists and engineers making sure they do the job correctly. It is just great practice for the teams they must learn to function in once they get out into industry,” Goldstein said.
“Students need to learn the skills of reservoir characterization, modeling fluid flow in the reservoirs to maximize production and to minimize cost,” he said. “They must learn how to work well in interdisciplinary groups of geologists, geophysicists and engineers, and they must learn how to present their results in a credible manner in order for management to adopt a recommendation.”