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Petroleum engineering lab gets boost

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A drilling fluids laboratory on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s campus will soon get additional equipment due to a rapidly growing enrollment in petroleum engineering classes.

The Evangeline Section of the Society of Petroleum Engineering recently donated $100,000 for the project. Students use the lab for hands-on analysis of drilling fluids, which are used to keep drill bits cool and clean and to prohibit unwanted fluids from entering the drill hole.

Dr. Fathi Boukadi, director of the Petroleum Engineering Program, said the University appreciates the SPE’s contribution and is trying to leverage it to obtain matching funds from the Louisiana Board of Regents Support Fund.

In 2007, UL Lafayette’s Petroleum Engineering Program had 150 students. Today, it has 710 undergrad students, 64 students who are seeking master’s degrees and eight doctoral students.

The Petroleum Engineering Program is hiring more lab instructors and keeping its labs open longer to accommodate more students. It’s also duplicating labs to ensure that all students have access to them.

Robert Ponville, chairman of the Evangeline Section of the SPE, said it made the donation because the experience students gain in the lab is so valuable. “We were trying to help with the influx so students have more hands-on time with equipment,” he said.

Boukadi said the University’s program attracts students because its graduates earn high salaries and it has a 100 percent job placement rate. Starting salaries for petroleum engineers with a bachelor’s degree range from $90,000 to $95,000 a year. A student who obtains a master’s or doctoral degree in petroleum engineering can expect to earn about $120,000 a year right after graduation.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. For 2012-22, it estimates a growth rate of 26 percent for petroleum engineers, compared to 11 percent for all occupations.

One reason the market demand is so high is that the United States is becoming more energy self-sufficient, Boukadi said. Earlier this year, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil predicted the nation will be 100 percent self-sufficient by 2020.

UL Lafayette offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in petroleum engineering and a doctorate in systems engineering with a concentration in petroleum engineering.

Boukadi said the University’s program is also growing because it’s creating a niche in deepwater drilling. It’s developing a cement lab to teach students about high-temperature, high-pressure drilling in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, for example.

Through an agreement with Intertek, a global company with teaching facilities in Lafayette, students can earn certification in well control – at no additional cost – while working toward their degrees.

“This is why our graduates all get jobs. They know what’s going on,” Boukadi said.

The University’s Petroleum Engineering Program will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year.

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