The College of Engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is starting a specific subfield in the Petroleum Engineering Department known as the smart oilfield concentration this fall. UL Lafayette is the first and only university in the United States to have a concentration that offers training with new smart technology in the oil and gas industry.

According to the Dean of the College of Engineering, Dr. Ahmed Khattab, the smart oilfield concentration will change the way UL Lafayette teaches petroleum engineering. 

“We are making history,” Khattab said. 

The smart oilfield concentration uses technology such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, computer coding, machine learning, predictive analytics and the Internet of Things to operate in the oilfield. The goal is to be productive and efficient using digital equipment.

There is a large amount of data output by the equipment in the oilfield that provides information about measurements such as pressures, temperatures, geologies and the rate of production of oil, gas and water. The data analytics is used to manage the data and can be interpreted and used with predictive analytics to improve efficiency in the future.

Machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence where a computer can learn and construct different patterns based on the data collected. This eliminates the need for an engineer to do these types of calculations. 

The Internet of Things allows software, sensors, and other technologies the ability to connect the information and share it between different devices via the internet. 

According to Petroleum Engineering Department Head, Dr. Rafael Hernandez, “We envision the next generation of drilling and oilfield not only minimizing all the environmental impacts, but also maximizing safety, and even minimizing the people that work in there.” 

The technology can monitor the equipment to signal when there is a possible safety risk such as a high temperature that can cause an operation problem. Being able to do this will allow workers to stay safe and prevent potential hazards. 

The equipment is also more environmentally friendly because it is not only sensing the rate of production of oil but also the amount of CO2 and methane emissions. Data analytics can use this information about emissions to build algorithms to make better environmental choices in the future.

The technology will also allow people that work in the oilfield to operate from much further away so this can reduce the number of people needed on location.

The technology being used in the smart oilfield concentration is being taught in a newly developed curriculum. One course called smart drilling will be taught by Randy Andres which will teach the Halliburton Landmark software to students in the concentration. 

Halliburton Landmark Engineer’s Desktop is able to compute the data collected from the rigs in minutes. The software from Halliburton cost over $100 million and is being donated to the smart oilfield concentration at UL Lafayette. 

“The Halliburton Landmark software we used in class has proven to be extremely useful for many aspects related to our coursework and beyond. This software is very popular in the industry and learning it gives us a head start and will increase our ‘hire-ability’. Supervisors at Shell have been impressed that I have familiarity with the software and have commented that they do not normally see interns or an addition to our curriculum that sets UL Petroleum Engineering apart from other schools,” Andrew R Sharpless, a former student in petroleum engineering, wrote in his Landmark testimonial. 

The PetroVisor Unified Data Model is also being used in the courses in the concentration. The PetroVisor software is being donated to smart oilfield concentration by Datagration which is worth close to $300,000. 

According to Peter Bernard, CEO at Datagration, the PetroVisor software is able to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to take the enormous amount of data that is collected in the oilfield and develop new models to clarify the information. These models are used to help make better decisions about economics and future strategies about drilling that can reduce cost and streamline operations.  

The oilfield was lagging behind in the latest technology and it was necessary for redevelopment within the industry to bring it up to date.

“50 percent of oil and gas has switched to smart oilfield starting in 2020 and more are getting involved so the need for such a graduate is very high,” said Khattab. 

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the engineering field are set to increase 6 percent by 2029. Petroleum engineering more specifically is projected to increase by 8 percent in that time period.

The models currently predict that renewable energy will grow from 8 percent to 16 percent by 2050. Conventional energy such as oil and gas will function alongside the renewable energy sources in the future. This is the reason that UL Lafayette has started the smart oilfield concentration.

“Petroleum engineering is here to stay alongside with renewable energy as well,” Khattab said, “all the data shows that oil and gas will coexist beyond 2050 with renewables and this will make them ready for it.”

This new concentration in petroleum engineering will prepare students for employment after graduation and help to advance them in their future careers. 

Austin Soulier, a UL Lafayette petroleum engineering alum working at Halliburton, said, “Advancements in technology have made the oil industry safer, faster, and more energy efficient than ever before. This technology dominates the oil industry now in all phases. Company’s engineers are designated to use these technologies to maximize production and reduce cost. Having a knowledge of how to use this equipment and software will put you above the competition as a new graduate and prepare you for your future as a petroleum engineer.”

The smart oilfield concentration is attempting to link the courses being taught in petroleum engineering to the needs in the industry. The College of Engineering is focused on teaching well rounded graduates ready to enter in the industry and hit the ground running.