Petroleum Engineering Course Teaches Students Where Energy Comes From and How We Get It

Petroleum Engineering Course

Petroleum engineer was ranked #12 on U.S. News and World Report’s newly published list of 2019’s Top Paying Jobs in America. Despite the rewards of an impressive paycheck, however, today’s environmentally-conscious and sustainability-focused young adults are increasingly unwilling to consider a career in this lucrative field. “The oil industry has a perception problem,” explains Villanova’s Chemical Engineering Department Chair Dr. Noelle Comolli, who thinks students are missing opportunities to grow and transform the field. With that in mind, she was pleased to accept Dr. Scott Jackson’s offer to teach a new undergraduate Petroleum Engineering course for the department.

After 33 years with DuPont, Dr. Jackson joined the Department of Chemical Engineering in 2016, first as an adjunct faculty member, and now as a visiting professor teaching Engineering Economics, Senior Design and, as of spring 2018, Petroleum Engineering. He became involved with the oil industry during his last decade with DuPont, when he served as the technical team leader on a microbial enhanced oil recovery project with British Petroleum. Today he is one of only a handful of EOR experts in the nation, and his students appreciate that he’s bringing that expertise to the classroom.

The Petroleum Engineering course is intended to provide chemical engineering students with an understanding of the upstream petroleum industry and some technical aspects of finding, producing and refining petroleum products. But Dr. Jackson is quick to point out that he doesn’t ignore the issues with using fossil fuels. “We discuss the environmental impact from day one,” he says, “but I also explain why inexpensive petroleum-based fuels and related products have been a key driver in the rapid world development into the 21st century.” He stresses, too, that consumers bear some of the responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in related to climate change. “The oil industry is providing a service, something people want to buy. In order to reduce carbon emissions, we have to change how we live our lives.” He references the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.—the Ford F-150 pickup—which gets 15 miles to the gallon, and adds that “until the price of these goods and services truly reflect the cost to society, nothing is going to change.”

In addition to the environment, the beginning of the course also involves discussions of multinational corporations, OPEC and the influence of geopolitics on the petroleum industry. Later lectures are devoted to the origin and distribution of petroleum and natural gas deposits in the Earth’s crust; the makeup of geological formations that hold petroleum; extraction methods; exploration, drilling, completion and modes of petroleum production; movement of oil, water and gas in porous rock (Darcy’s law); fracking; and refining.

“My ultimate goal,” says Dr. Jackson, “is to educate students as to where the energy they use comes from and how it gets to us, and to help them understand that climate change is real and that we all need to take responsibility for reducing carbon emissions.”