LARAMIE — As a daughter of parents in the oil and gas industry, University of Wyoming student Rebecca Podio of Newcastle is following in her folks’ footsteps.
Demand for quality petroleum engineers is high nationwide, and the timing couldn’t be better for students like Podio, who is seeking a petroleum engineering degree at UW.
The combined UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering is seeing the highest enrollment of any department in the College of Engineering and Applied Science — especially on the petroleum side, which has experienced a huge 55 percent increase from a year ago, from 144 students to 219 this fall.
“Our petroleum engineering program has such a large enrollment because there is a strong demand from industry for petroleum engineers,” says David Bagley, head of the UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “That demand has translated into high starting salaries for petroleum engineers compared to other engineering fields.”
It was just seven years ago that the petroleum engineering program was reinstated at UW. Just 26 students were enrolled when UW officials, in 1996, decided to eliminate the program. The industry was suffering from falling energy prices worldwide.
UW restarted the program in 2005 and, the following fall, 47 students enrolled, says UW chemical engineering Professor Brian Towler, who was the department head at that time. Collectively, the chemical and petroleum engineering department today has 444 total students, including undergraduate, graduate and doctoral candidate students.
“For the first time, the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering is the largest engineering department in the College of Engineering and Applied Science,” Towler says.
The resurgent petroleum engineering program at UW attracted Podio, who graduated from Newcastle High School in 2007.
“I chose to attend UW because, like a lot of Wyoming students, financially it only made sense to stay in-state because of the low cost of tuition, the Hathaway Scholarship and the other scholarship opportunities,” she says. “My entire family works in the oil and gas industry, so I always thought I would probably go into this field. Fortunately, for me, UW's petroleum program was restarted shortly before I graduated from high school.”
Her father, Andy, owns AP Production Service in Newcastle, and her stepmother, Dolores, also works for the company.
Podio —who will graduate in May and also will receive bachelor’s degrees in in finance and economics from the College of Business — says she hopes to secure a position as a petroleum engineer.
“Eventually, I would like to work in petroleum price forecasting or acquisitions financing and valuation, which is why I chose to pursue degrees in economics and finance as well,” she adds.
Bagley says the timing is right for UW students because of the market’s demands for quality petroleum engineers. He says industry demand is driven by factors such as the price of crude oil, which has been strong for a number of years, due in no small part to China’s increasing demand for crude oil.
“This price has made the search for and exploitation of unconventional reservoirs economically viable,” Bagley adds. “Unconventional reservoirs are more difficult to produce and require more technology and capable engineers than conventional reservoirs. So, more engineers are needed to exploit these resources.”
Another reason driving the demand for more petroleum engineers is that the industry allowed its engineering workforce to age by not hiring a steady stream of new talent during the 1990s.
“This was for economic reasons, but the result was a severe shortage of engineers once the demand for oil increased. There was a shortage of engineers with 5-10 years of experience,” Bagley says. “The experience gap can't be closed by hiring a lot of new engineers, but the best of the new engineers will likely see tremendous opportunity for advancement for several years until the experience gap closes.”
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