Oil and Gas Power Innovative Research & the Future of STEM Workers
The oil and gas industry regularly partners with research institutions to develop cutting-edge technologies and pioneer innovation in chemistry, physics and engineering. Speaking at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, White House science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier recently emphasized the importance of this private investment in scientific research:
“In 2015, for the first time in the history of this country, the private sector funded more basic research than did the federal government. Now, that didn’t happen because the federal government stopped funding basic research, but it happened because American companies have the freedom to be creative and to invest and to explore new ideas.”
These partnerships demonstrate how private funding can not only benefit students, educators and researchers while helping to grow general scientific knowledge, but also drive industry innovation that benefits our economy. As students from the University of Tulsa wrote for the Society of Petroleum Engineers:
Research partnerships between independent oil and gas companies and universities benefit both sides. On the one hand, academe gets the opportunity to work on the latest technological challenges and propose feasible solutions, and on the other, independent firms gain conceptual insights into the technical problems they face and sometimes as a result can optimize their effort, time, and investment.
Oil and natural gas partnerships are improving the environment.
Many of these partnerships are aimed at mitigating environmental impacts and creating a more sustainable future. For example, the Collaborative Laboratories for Environmental Analysis and Remediation at The University of Texas at Arlington, in collaboration with Apache Corp., has studied surface and groundwater quality in the company’s Alpine High play in West Texas.
Some oil producers are leading the research and development of biofuels. At the top of that list is Exxon, which is actively studying algae in partnership with Michigan State, the Colorado School of Mines and University of Wisconsin to create algae-based biofuels.
Over 25 producers have also partnered to share innovative solutions to reduce emissions. The goals of the Environmental Partnership include focusing “on solutions that are technically feasible, commercially proven and will result in significant emissions reductions.”
Oil and gas partnerships are preparing future workers.
Funding and support from the oil and gas industry also allows students and young researchers to improve STEM education. Chevron sponsors the University Partnerships and Association Relations (UPAR), which provides grants to develop students in engineering, finance, geology, environmental science and information technology. Shell, for example, has established technology centers at Imperial College London.
Companies also invest significantly in STEM at the K-12 level. ConocoPhillips and Rice University created the Applied Math Program (AMP!), which focuses on improving math education through student peer-to-peer tutoring, supplemental instruction and professional development for teachers. Operators in Texas and Pennsylvania have invested in mobile oilfield learning units (MOLUs) that bring STEM education workshops to large numbers of students. The MOLUs are run by the Oilfield Energy Center and offer fifth- through eighth-graders the opportunity to learn about “the science, technology and careers related to the oil and natural gas industry through hands-on, educational activities.”
Oil and natural gas partnerships benefit unrelated industries
At the BP Institute (BPI) for Multiphase Flow, based at the University of Cambridge, research on multiphase flow has helped the oil and gas industry improve pipelines systems. Coincidently, this research has also helped ice cream makers.
When ice cream freezes, multiphase flow plays a key role in ice cream crystallization, and the research that companies like BP have done has helped to produce ice cream with a distinctive creamy – not grainy – texture.
Besides helping to create tastier food, oil and gas research into microbes has aided agriculture as well. The oil and gas industry realized the potential of microbes to identify well sources, as a growing number of producers have partnered with bio engineering firms such as Biota. The DNA sequencing that examines microbes with the goal of focusing oil drilling also allows scientists to identify microbes that are beneficial for plant life – making them extremely useful as bio-fertilizers in agriculture, increasing crop yields.
Oil and gas is an industry built on technology and science, and its contributions to academia and research are important drivers of innovation. They bring students closer to cutting-edge work, provide much-needed resources to broad swaths of science departments, and drive insight across many industries. These partnerships benefit us all.