When Juan Garcia retired from ExxonMobil, where he'd worked for more than 38 years as an engineer, ending his career as the worldwide drilling manager, he wanted to do something that would help attract more young people to the petroleum industry.
With about half of the industry nearing retirement age, concerns remain high that there won't be enough skilled personnel to replace those who are departing – particularly in technical disciplines, the so-called "great crew change."
When Garcia became a volunteer In ExxonMobil's Science Ambassadors, a program to encourage science, technology, engineering, and mathematical learning in schools, he decided to develop a lesson that would show how scientific principles that kids study in school have led to breakthroughs in today's drilling and production technology.
"I thought of it from the students' perspective," Garcia said. "One question that many young students have is 'How am I going to use the stuff I am studying in school in the real world?'" He wanted the lessons to be fun and interesting for the students by having them participate in the discussion and straightforward enough for volunteers with non-technical backgrounds to present.
Garcia explains normally challenging principals of physics using everyday items such as fishing corks (buoyancy) and teeter-totters (center of gravity,) then shows how these are applied to sophisticated oil and gas technologies.
Garcia uses simple concepts like fishing corks to explain why, for instance, deeper rigs and platforms must float, versus being fixed to the ocean floor.
"When you explain the concepts of friction, for example, in drilling a well, is friction good or bad? The answer is both, good and bad," Garcia explained. "Friction between the turning drillstring and the hole causes wear and can damage the pipe so we have to develop ways to reduce it and manage it. But friction between the drilling fluid and the cuttings being generated by the bit as the hole is made allows us to lift them out of the hole, against the force of gravity, by circulating fluid down the drill pipe and up the outside of the pipe and hole annulus to the surface."
Friction also is what allows a bit to break up the rock on bottom to make new hole, Garcia explained. "It's all about how we use what is learned in school, and how we apply it in creative ways. I like to turn the light on."
"I like to turn the light on," Garcia says.
"I use the example of fishermen's use of a cork to show what allows us to drill in very deep water," Garcia said. "A fisherman uses a floating cork with a weight on one end to allow him to then run a line with another lead weight at the bottom of a loose line and baited hook below it when he is fishing. The cork, easily visible to the fisherman, bobs freely on top of the water until a fish takes the bait and pulls the cork under."
Making a cork float vertically in the water by adding weight on one end, then stabilizing it by pulling it down partway into the water with a line and weight, is the same concept used in designing offshore floating caissons in water depths where bottom fixed structures are not structurally or economically feasible. This technology opens up the opportunities to explore and produce reserves that would not be accessible otherwise.
"In the classroom, we tell the fisherman story using unweighted and weighted corks and lines of different lengths to demonstrate the concepts. We also use little toy action figures to demonstrate buoyancy effects and how we can change the way an object floats in the water," Garcia said. "If we put the lifejacket around the feet of the action figure it still floats but it is upside down. This emphasizes the importance of understanding the principles and how to use them.
"At the end of the fisherman story, when the cork is floating steady with the short line pulling it down, we place a model of a platform with a rig on top to show that the cork will not move further down into the water once it has line forces holding it steady. At this point, we show a slide showing the real thing (Diana Hoover DDCV) sitting out in the Gulf of Mexico in 4,800 feet of water."
Garcia also demonstrates horizontal drilling by showing how bent housing motors are used to deviate wells and control or change the path towards a target. "We also show how magnetometers and inclinometers work and how we use them, gravity, and the earth's magnetism to track a well's path using right triangles, math and graphs."
Garcia has developed and built models, experiments, and demonstrations in his garage so that the students can better grasp the concepts and principles.
Garcia lacked the resources such as photographs, data, samples, other materials and the graphics technology needed to present his material in the compelling way that he envisioned. However, ExxonMobil Exploration & Development Company supported the idea and provided the necessary resources and aid, which includes supporting workshops to train the volunteers needed to take the program to the schools.
The "Drilling Kit" has been presented to about 50 classes. It has also been used in career day workshops and other school programs. Since this material is the property of ExxonMobil, volunteer presenters must be either ExxonMobil employees or retirees from the company. If you would like to have one of these sessions presented at your school in the greater Houston area, please contact ExxonMobil Community Relations Adviser, Anita Taylor, who is the coordinator of the Science Ambassador Program. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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