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The 1980's have seen an increasing number of students from the People's Republic of China come to US petroleum schools for basic or advanced degree training. Dissimilar transcripts, courses taken, and degrees obtained make transcript analyses difficult and each candidate's application a unique analysis.
This study analyzes 26 petroleum undergraduate program in the US and presents a "typical US Petroleum Engineering undergraduate program." Twenty-seven transcripts from eight PRC petroleum institutes have been examined in an attempt to point out similarities and dissimilarities between the petroleum training common to both nations. From these comparisons, future student candidates traveling to either nation to study petroleum engineering can better determine what preparatory courses are applicable to the degree program in that nation.
Petroleum engineering programs prepare the candidate for the specialized training required in the search, location, production, and economic development of oil and gas as a marketable product.
The petroleum engineer is challenged throughout his/her career to make significant decisions on reservoir mechanics and reservoir fluid behavior based not on what can be visually determined but on what can be synthesized regarding these reservoirs and flow behaviors. An oil field core, representing perhaps 1/1,000th of one percent of the reservoir and its entrained fluids, is captured, brought to the surface, and analyzed with the assumption that this small sample will be representative of that small's producing area. Assumptive applications of these lab parameters are made for decades as if the values obtained were exact when, in fact, they are only approximately representative.
In recognition that petroleum engineers cannot hold or see the reservoir, bring it into a lab and analyze all needed parameters of that reservoir and its entrained fluids, petroleum engineering curriculum have been designed to train the engineer foremost in his/her ability to analyze and apply these intuitive analyses using the laws of physics, mathematics, chemistry, logic, and engineering to develop engineering logic and judgement.
Therefore, the petroleum engineer in the US is unique in that he/she is trained in a broad spectrum of courses--broader than most other engineer programs. Table I illustrates the typical courses required for the baccalaureate degree in engineering at Texas Tech University. It is proposed that these curricula will be representative of other first class engineering programs. The petroleum engineering candidate pursues the typical courses in mathematics and more chemistry than the other engineering program . The students take the humanities/social science courses typical to all the engineering program (except Chemical and Industrial Engineering), and they are required to take more engineering sciences than any other disciplines of the listed program, exceeded only by civil and mechanical engineering programs.
Table I lists the subject courses for seven engineering areas: Agricultural, Civil, Mechanical, Chemical, Electrical, Industrial, and Petroleum Engineering. An entry of "Y" indicates that noted course is required, "N" indicates that noted course is not required. The total credits required for graduation in each area ranges from 133 to 140 credits. With the exception of "Other Engineering" or "Electives", the Petroleum Engineer-candidate is required to take every course noted with the exception of accounting. No other engineering discipline cited requires this breadth.
Petroleum engineering as a discipline has historically been intimately allied with a single industry. As such, the discipline is often viewed as being more of a technical specialty than as a fundamental discipline in the same sense as chemical, civil, electrical, or mechanical engineering. However, there are distinctive factors that make petroleum engineering fundamentally different from other engineering disciplines, much in the same way that mechanical engineering is different from chemical engineering. These differences make petroleum engineers best qualified to deal with the general class of engineering problems involving fluid movement within the earth, even in such non-energy related areas as hydrology and underground waste disposal. In addition to the need for petroleum engineers for hydrocarbon extraction, it is likely that as we move into the next century, many natural resource problems will require increasing reliance on technical expertise that can and should be supplied by what are currently called petroleum engineers.
Nomenclature has forced petroleum engineering into being a narrowly-perceived discipline, when in reality it possesses as much or more breadth as any other engineering discipline. The time is at hand for the discipline of petroleum engineering to stake out a claim to address all engineering problems involving fluid transport in the earth. No other engineering discipline provides a more appropriate base of knowledge and methodology. An example undergraduate curriculum is proposed for the education of petroleum engineers for the 21st century. It is further proposed that the term "petroleum engineering" may not be entirely appropriate to fully describe this more fundamental emerging discipline.
Recognition of petroleum engineering as a distinct engineering discipline is again being threatened. The discipline has never been thought of in the same terms as the more general fields of, for example, civil or electrical engineering. Yet universities that graduate petroleum engineers have served a vital role in preparing engineers for an industry vital to our nation. Petroleum engineering as a discipline is periodically threatened when the single industry that hires petroleum engineering graduates enters recessionary periods such as now. Our graduates are viewed by the petroleum industry, by petroleum engineering students, and by people outside the industry as only being trained to function as petroleum engineers.
It is remarkable that the same issues regarding the survivability of petroleum engineering programs and the future direction of petroleum engineering curricula re-emerge during times of petroleum industry recession causing drops in petroleum enrollments. Many of the issues we address in this paper have been addressed in these earlier papers.
To survive as a discipline, petroleum engineering must begin to train people for more broadly-based endeavors. Although the vast majority of geology graduates are hired by the petroleum industry, and geology student enrollments swing as much as those in petroleum engineering, is there ever much talk in universities of "merging" or abolishing geology departments? Geology is a well-defined branch of science with a body of knowledge and a methodology distinctly different from other sciences. Unless the same case can be made for petroleum engineering, the discipline should perhaps cease to exist, at least as a separate undergraduate department. We do not believe this should happen.
Education is a primary concern of the international oil and gas industry at present (Ronalds, 2002). Quantitative competence is important, but will not likely separate professionals from their fellow competitors. There is a limit to the progress to be made in the petroleum profession based on technical competence alone. This paper investigates and creates a better understanding of those basic elements which must form part of a petroleum engineer's education in the new millennium to enhance production and meet demands. In the backdrop of the identified challenges faced by industry, the elements discussed include critical reasoning, business & uncertainty management, leadership, teamwork skills, ethics and professionalism, the humanities, and communication. These help to understand how the petroleum engineer's education should evolve so as to cope with the changing environment and ensure career success.
This study reveals that the petroleum engineer's soft skills and knowledge of these elements require expansion. Creation of an expanded curriculum is necessary to tap into the subjects that engage the younger generation. Model curricula in selected top petroleum universities are studied to identify areas for emulation and for improvement. Educational models that could help transfer competence to the Third World institutions are proposed.