Students in the shale research program at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology are studying the program's first core samples.
In recent years, the shale revolution has allowed the United States to achieve a level of energy security that would have been thought impossible only a few years ago, while also boosting the labor force through the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs. In an effort to push the envelope on operating in shale formations, as well as to ensure that the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students of today are prepared for the energy careers of tomorrow, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SD School of Mines) in Rapid City, South Dakota is using its experience with natural resources and its proximity to major shale formations surrounding the school to full advantage in its new Energy Resources Initiative, one of academia's first shale programs.
Rigzone recently spoke with two of the leaders of the program, Heather Wilson, PhD., the president of SD School of Mines, as well as Lance Roberts, Ph.D., the head of the Department of Mining Engineering and Management.
Rigzone: How would you characterize the goal of the program? Is it to prepare students for an energy career, or is it to advance the state of the art regarding operating in shale formations?
Wilson: Our energy resource initiative at the SD School of Mines has two parts. One is to advance knowledge, which is where the research, and particularly the shale research, comes in, and the other is to prepare students for employment in the energy industry.
About 20 percent of all of our students are actually hired into companies in the energy industry. Of course, the students minoring in Petroleum Systems, or who are in the Energy Resources Initiative, are much more likely than the general student population to go into the energy industry. They are in upstream, downstream, service support, and a variety of different areas in the energy industry.
But the research part of it, and particularly the shale research initiative, is really about advancing knowledge. When you think about it, in the Bakken, estimates are that they are producing perhaps only as much as 7 percent of the oil that is in the rock. If you can increase production by 1 or 2 percent over what they are already getting out of the Bakken, that’s adds up to billions of dollars. So, this rock is worthy of research both for advanced recovery of hydrocarbons, and also water resources research and materials development. We’re working with a number of companies on polymer and composite materials for drilling and production applications, hardened specialty metals, characterization of materials including cements and ceramics. So, there are a lot of things that we are involved in that relate to the energy industry from a research point of view. It’s fun to be around these people. They’re doing interesting work.
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