Universities and industry collaborating more to meet each other’s needs

Universities and oil and gas firms are sharing resources, technology and thinkers more today than ever before in an effort to promote each other’s priorities and solve a staffing shortage of engineers in some fields.

At a panel discussion Tuesday sponsored by the University of Houston at the Offshore Technology Conference at Reliant Center, professors, consultants and corporate officials discussed the collaboration between the energy industry and academia.

“Houston is the energy capital of the world, so the question is how do we build on the presence of the industry and all of the oil and gas capabilities that exist in the city of Houston and build something that is unique and good,”  said Ali Daneshy, who heads an oil and gas consulting firm.

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Daneshy said that in looking out into the future at the world’s energy needs, if the industry is going to meet those needs, it needs the best and brightest minds from schools that focus on petroleum engineering. When industry officials and engineers help fund and staff those programs, it builds a pipeline for hiring and providing a strong bench for companies.

Daneshy said it also is important to utilize technology from other industries in helping shape these programs.

“Somebody needs to take the lead in bringing these together,” he said.

Money is important for the collaboration. And in Houston, the industry has jumped in with both arms and big bucks.

Ron Harrell, chairman emeritus of petroleum consulting firm Ryder Scott, said that in 2008, Marathon Oil committed $600,000 to the University of Houston’s petroleum engineering program. Today, an advisory board at the school includes representatives from oil and gas and oil field services firms, including Schlumberger, BP and Anadarko, he said.

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Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the University of Houston’s chief energy officer, said the nexus between university academia and the industry is something administrators have been more focused on in recent years.

One challenge they have seen, he said, is figuring out how to get more minorities and women to participate in the petroleum engineering academic programs and later take jobs in the industry.

“They don’t need to be pushed, they just need to be encouraged,” said Tom Holley, a University of Houston professor and director of petroleum engineering at the school.