In recognition of the growing demand for offshore exploration, the University of Houston will offer the nation’s first subsea engineering graduate program, with classes expected to begin next fall.
The university started a certificate program in subsea engineering last year, also the first of its kind in the country.
Matthew Franchek, a mechanical engineering professor who is leading the program, said it grew out of talks with companies who said they needed help with the training.
“There’s a huge knowledge and capability above the water and on land,” he said. “This transitions them to go subsea. We have to develop a new workforce.”
Almost 100 people are enrolled in the certificate program — up from just 20 when the program began in the spring of 2011 — and Franchek said many will enroll in the master’s degree program, which he said will also be offered online.
He said the program is likely to draw a mix of mid-career workers and students just completing a bachelor’s degree.
Subsea engineers oversee the design, installation and maintenance of equipment, infrastructure and tools used in underwater drilling and production. The operations are automated or performed remotely, complicated by high pressures, a corrosive salt water environment and intensely cold temperatures.
Companies are increasingly moving to ultradeep water, Franchek noted. “That’s where the huge reserves are. The question is, how do you get heavy oil, mixed with natural gas and sand, lifted up two miles and more, through the reservoir, through the seabed crust? … It’s all got to come together, below 10,000 feet.”
The UH program will offer a class in blowout preventer design this spring, he said.
Subsea engineering hasn’t traditionally been considered a separate discipline in the United States, although Franchek said universities in Scotland, England and Singapore treat it that way. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board earlier this year approved UH’s application to offer the master’s degree.
He said experts from Cameron, FMC Technologies and GE Oil & Gas were involved in developing the program.
A number of companies contributed to the program financially, he said.
UH established an undergraduate degree in petroleum engineering two years ago in response to requests — and donations — from a number of industry groups who said they were worried that their need for workers was outstripping the available supply.