University of Calgary not abandoning oil and gas

Undergrad program expands into more diverse energy sources as industry seeks a low carbon future

By Deborah Jaremko
Dr. Arin Sen, head of the department of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering. Photo courtesy UCalgary

The University of Calgary’s decision to suspend admissions to its oil and gas engineering bachelor program signals a broadening of opportunities for students in all forms of energy, supporting the industry’s goal of a low carbon future, says a senior leader in the Schulich School of Engineering.

“This move in no way should insinuate that we are abandoning oil and gas, that is not true at all. We very much continue to support training students in oil and gas,” says Arin Sen, head of Schulich’s department of chemical and petroleum engineering.

UCalgary is maintaining its petroleum engineering minor, as well as its bachelor of energy engineering program, which considers a more diverse range of sources, he says.

“Students are certainly interested in the area of energy, but they no longer consider energy to just be oil and gas,” Sen says.

“They’re excited about some of these other initiatives that I think are important in Alberta. Recently, for example, there’s a push for more hydrogen; we hear these cool stories related to geothermal, we hear stories around investment into wind and solar, and so they want to know about all of these things.”

At a higher level, the university is maintaining its masters’ and doctoral level programs in petroleum engineering — training that can have real results improving the industry’s environmental performance and cost competitiveness.

“At the PhD at MSC levels, we’ve got students that are working on awesome projects that are related to oil and gas,” Sen says.

“I think that maybe it’s not always clear to everyone how innovative these companies have been already. And a lot of that innovation was done in conjunction with universities.”

For example, work with UCalgary is advancing the use of constructed wetlands for reclamation in the oil sands.

This March, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and the Natural Sciences Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) committed a total $2.5 million over five years to support work by UCalgary wetlands expert Jan Ciborowski.

The program will develop measures to assess the success of oil sands wetland reclamation.

“We’ve learned enough so that companies could start building full scale wetlands on disturbed land at mining sites,” Ciborowski said in a statement.

“Now the wetlands are four or five years old they look really good, they are lush, green and full of wildlife, but there isn’t a framework or a standard set of measures we can use to assess young constructed wetlands and predict their future success, which is what this effort will seek to establish.”

Faculty at the Schulich School of Engineering are working on research to improve oil sands production processes. For example, the Gates Research Group under professor Ian Gates reports it has developed operational and downhole strategies that lower GHG emissions and water use for steam-based drilling projects.

“All of that is going to continue; we want to maintain and even strengthen our ties to these companies and contribute to that particular sector to making it better, stronger, cleaner,” Sen says.

“We’re going to continue supporting that, while at the same time adding other types of knowledge.”

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