You are here

Ohio State relaunches petroleum engineering program

More than 55 years after the petroleum engineering curriculum at Ohio State was discontinued due to declining national enrollments, the program is set to return as a minor offered by the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE).

Driven by the commercialization of plentiful shale gas reserves in Ohio and student interest in the U.S. Society of Petroleum Engineering, the first new petroleum engineering courses were offered spring semester, with the minor expected to be formalized by fall 2017.

“The energy industry is a major employer of engineering graduates from Ohio State. Having the petroleum engineering minor will help students get started more quickly with energy companies, and will also provide visibility to this career path for many more students,” said Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education David Tomasko, who is also a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Petroleum engineers focus on finding and harvesting oil and gas in the safest, most efficient manner possible. This could include discovering reservoirs, estimating their size, determining the most efficient way to harvest them and designing transportation methods to deliver the material to processing plants.

“Opportunities in petroleum engineering are cyclical and driven by the price of oil, but it’s a field that has legs,” said Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Chair and Professor Andre Palmer. “In the long view, having a background in it creates opportunities to expand into that area. People who are properly trained in petroleum engineering are worth their weight in gold. Industry representatives say that studying it as a major is not necessary.”

Petroleum engineering is often taught by geology or chemical engineering faculty and some of the courses being offered will be taught by Ohio State geology professors. The benefit to the minor being part of the chemical engineering curriculum is that students will also be able to apply their knowledge of thermodynamics, separations and transport phenomena to the field, said Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Stuart Cooper.

Leading the effort to develop the new program is Ilham El-Monier, who began last fall as a clinical assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a researcher at the Utica Shale Energy & Environment Laboratory at Ohio State. Her industry training includes working as a reservoir engineer in BP’s Cairo office and other stations in Egypt. She holds a PhD in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University-College Station and was previously a lecturer and postdoc with the University of Oklahoma’s Mewborne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering.

“Through teaching the first course and my interaction with the students, I noticed that the students in chemical engineering are serious about acquiring new knowledge about the oil and gas industry,” El-Monier said. “Giving them the opportunity to learn more about the petroleum industry through the minor program will add to their skills and help them succeed.”

Distinguished alumnus Paul Dubetz (’80, chemical engineering), who has 35 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, also joined CBE as an adjunct assistant professor to help launch the new minor. Prior to retiring in 2015 from ExxonMobil—the largest integrated major energy company in the U.S.—he was vice president for commercial operations, ExxonMobil Iraq Ltd.

The chemical and biomolecular engineering department’s namesake, William G. Lowrie, was so inspired by the Ohio State’s petroleum engineering courses that he joined Amoco after graduation in 1966 and spent his 33-year career with the company, working his way up the ranks to become president of Amoco and deputy CEO of BP Amoco.

Lowrie also made a generous gift to endow the H.C. "Slip" Slider Professorship for an untenured faculty member in chemical and biomolecular engineering, which honors beloved engineering professor H.C. “Slip” Slider. Slider wrote one of the first textbooks on petroleum engineering and headed up CBE’s former petroleum engineering program.

edited version of article written by Wenda Williamson