Completion Engineer replaces Geophysicist for top slot

The Colorado School of Mines has roughly 740 total petroleum engineering students enrolled today, about 190 of whom are slated for graduation in 2015.

“Petroleum is driving our enrollment,” Colorado School of Mines Department of Petroleum Engineering’s Interim Department Head, Dr. William W. Fleckenstein, told Oil & Gas 360® at EnerCom’s The Oil & Gas Conference 19® today in Denver.

With the advent of horizontal drilling and complex fracing and completion technologies running hard across North America’s shale basins, the tables have turned with respect to the most revered job functions in the E&P universe.

“Fifteen years ago the most important person in an independent oil and gas company was the geophysicist, because his job was to generate the prospects. Today it’s the completion engineer. Over half the well cost is the completion,” said Fleckenstein.

Prior to 2005, conventional vertical drilling was standard procedure for producing hydrocarbons, but today’s post-shale world calls for horizontal drilling into the shale followed by individualized frac designs, multi-stage fracs, fluid designs, proppant selection, and testing and tweaking well completions to optimize production. “So many engineers are needed to engineer the fracs and completions,” Fleckenstein said.

Where will the industry get enough petroleum engineers to fill the industry need? “We accept about 1,000 students per year,” Fleckenstein said. “We are starting to see students turning down acceptances from Harvard to go to the School of Mines. About one out of ten who apply is accepted.”

Fleckenstein said his department at Mines helps students secure internships with the Denver-area oil and gas operators. “We’re talking about paid internships—most make $6,000 to $7,000 per month. The first year is in the field where they learn it first hand; then they go into the offices where they put the students in positions doing important, relevant work. It’s more like a long-term job interview.”

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