Russ: This is The BusinessMakers Show brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business, and for today’s second Featured Guest we’re sharing our EnergyMakers guest from two weeks ago Phillip Jefferson; University of Houston Petroleum Engineering student sharing his passion about the oil and gas industry. So let’s start right here, what motivated you to become a Petroleum Engineering major?
Phillip: Well mainly when I was coming out of high school I wanted to do something important and really what people don’t realize is that currently energy demand, and meeting that energy demand, is so much more important and crucial than say 100 years ago. Because 100 years ago everything was man-powered, but now if we don’t meet the energy demand people go hungry; the world literally doesn’t move. So that was really, really inspiring and really interesting to me so it made me want to go into the petroleum engineering industry.
Russ: Okay, when did that dawn on you? How old were you?
Phillip: I want to say I was about 16 when I really started recognizing what was going on with the fracking revolution and how the EIA – what was really interesting to me was when I looked at their projections they said that we wouldn’t even necessarily meet energy demand even with fossil fuels being in the equation so I thought that that was a big problem that needed to be solved.
Russ: Well it obviously is but of course a lot of the innovators have been doing a pretty good job of addressing it while simultaneously kind of changing the whole engineering side. Did you follow the whole hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling movement?
Phillip: Absolutely, absolutely. It was quite interesting because I remember listening to conventional drilling methods and hearing about shale but every time I heard about it, it was used as a seal; it was used to stop the oil from flowing. And I remember one day reading about shale fracking and I was like what do they mean? Shale fracking, what is that? And then I heard that they were actually extracting oil and gas from this rock that used to not even be a rock that was in the equation to extract oil from. So I was like wow, it’s definitely something that makes you as an aspiring petroleum engineer wants you to make more innovations like that and just kind of opens your eyes to that. We’re not done yet, there are still lots of things in that industry to discover.
Russ: I contend often that I don’t think enough of the population understands the scale, density and efficiency of fossil fuels.
Phillip: That’s a great point Russ. Really something that you hear often is this transfer to renewables but what people don’t realize is that in order for us to pursue renewables on a larger scale fossil fuels is that bridge. I mean it is the most dense energy source that we can get right now in the largest quantities. So before any of these other renewables are even close to a reality to supply our energy demand we must pursue fossil fuels to the largest extent and which we can actually fuel our economy; we can actually power the vehicles in order to get to this sustainable future if you will.
Russ: Great, absolutely. So what made to choose the University of Houston?
Phillip: Well several factors. Obviously its location is prime, we’re in the energy capital of the world, but really where the program is going and how fast it was growing in addition to the leadership in place from the Director Tom Holley to the Chief Energy Officer Ramanan Krishnamoorti to Renu Khator who in my opinion is the best President in the entire country. It’s really everything in place for this to be a world premier program and one of the best.
Russ: Okay, well I tend to agree with that. I’m out here quite often, have interviewed all the people you just mentioned, but it’s kind of interesting too for a university at this level to take such a pro oil and gas position – which makes sense being in Houston – but it doesn’t happen very many places around the country. In fact some universities have student led initiatives right now to divest themselves from investing even in oil and gas. Are you aware of that and what do you think of it?
Phillip: Yes, absolutely, and to me it’s kind of baffling because the economy is so dependent on the energy sector, and that’s not even just Houston, just the United States in general, we are one of the largest consumers – the largest consuming entity of energy in the world. And so with that being such a crucial part of our economy it only behooves us to come up with these innovations and to explore and to educate students about not only just energy sectors but the largest energy sectors like petroleum. So to me, in my opinion, it’s something that we have a responsibility to educate students – college students, even if we could start at the high school level – to be aware of these things because people simply aren’t aware of how important it is.
Russ: Okay, I totally agree; you and I are on the same team for sure. So describe a little bit some of the interesting curriculum that you’ve been involved here at the University of Houston.
Phillip: Oh it’s great. They actually give us a very, very diverse course load because you take your basics – your calculuses, your physics, your chemistries – but with the faculty that we have in place here, for instance for reservoir engineering, which right now is probably one of the most interesting parts of petroleum engineering, is the reservoir engineering revolution – hydraulic fracturing, extracting more oil and gas out of there – is quite interesting because we have Dr. John Lee who wrote the first Society of Petroleum Engineering text book on reservoir engineering.
And so when he’s teaching us these things and he’s telling us these new methods and all you’re thinking in your head is right now all we’re getting is 10 – 20% of the oil initially in play so how can we get 30, 40, 50%, and we’re getting those opinions from the best people that we could get those opinions from. So getting our reservoir engineering, getting our production operations from Christine Economides who is the first woman to get her PhD in Petroleum Engineering, you know it’s quite, quite interesting because you have this basic foundation base and then you go and you explore the specifics with some of the best in the world to give you those specifics.
Russ: Okay, it sounds like you’re a little bit passionate about it as well.
Phillip: Absolutely, I love the University of Houston and I love the program.
Russ: Okay and the program has a student organization that you hold a pretty important office in is that right?
Phillip: Yes sir. We actually have a couple student organizations for the energy initiative, I’m the President of the Energy Association which simply is pretty much an umbrella organization for the entire UH Energy Initiative. And what we do is we bring in speakers from large corporations to give talks on different topics, new developing technologies, things of that sort. We go on plant tours, we take them out to the oil and gas refineries so people can get a first hand take of it.
Because you hear about oil and gas and the refineries and things like that, but until you’re actually on a refinery and you see the magnitude of it, this 1300 acre facility, you really get an understanding of how large this industry and how large the different components are. So that’s pretty much what we do; we give people exposure and we try to educate students on the energy industry because like we were talking about earlier people really aren’t educated the way that they should be.
Russ: Absolutely, that’s correct. But I also understand that the university does a great job of partnering, integrating and collaborating with oil and gas companies.
Phillip: That’s a great point that you being up is the collaboration which that really comes down to the energy research park because it really is the ultimate collaboration of academia and industry. We have access to all the largest oil and gas companies and just energy companies in general in the world so it’s something that you can tap out and reach out to some of these massive corporations whether it’s Exxon, Shell, BP. And it’s quite, quite easy compared to a lot of the other schools in which they have to really bring these individuals into their school as opposed to us just being right next door to them. So it’s definitely something that’s accessible to our students and I think is a major advantage for the University of Houston.
Russ: So as you heard when I kicked off the interview I said this is about the great crew change and knowledge transfer, I assume you’re totally in the loop with what’s happening that a great significant portion of the experts that have many years of experience are real close to retirement age and there’s a lot of people that are kind of concerned about the knowledge transfer. What happens if these guys go away while we’re in this $50 a barrel slump and the new people show up and we’ve lost all the knowledge? Do you get discussions about that?
Phillip: Absolutely, I mean the retiring of the baby boomers what they call it is definitely a major topic of discussion for petroleum engineers and it’s really a reason why I think we see this huge surge in petroleum engineering enrollment. The University of Houston is a prime example; it’s going from 20 students back in 2009 to over 900 students now. I think that people are realizing that there is going to be a massive hole that needs to be filled and I think that’s actually something of a reason why we need to have more of a focus on specific majors like petroleum engineering and filing that gap.
Because it really does give a lot of opportunity for us students now because like you were saying, when we have this massive wave of people who retire there is going to be that hole that needs to be filled and it’s going to be filled by us right now. We will be the people filling those holes, coming up with those new innovations and really leading the country and the economy towards a safe and sustainable future.
Russ: Okay, so before I let you go Phillip describe for me the best case scenario; where Phillip Jefferson will be 5 years, 10 years from now.
Phillip: 5 years, 10 years from now would be working as a reservoir engineer and discovering a way that we can extract – if I could get in my lifetime to where we could get 50 to 60% of the oil initially in place I would feel like a satisfied and like a fulfilled individual.
Russ: Great well good luck on that Phillip.
Phillip: Thank you Russ.
Russ: And thank so much for being with us.
Phillip: Well I appreciate it, thank you.
Russ: And that wraps up our interview with University of Houston petroleum engineering student Phillip Jefferson. And this is The BusinessMakers Show brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.
brought to you by