Earth Science students win national petroleum geology case study competition

Mar 27th, 2012

Kelly Foss

Earth Science students win national petroleum geology case study competition

Memorial University students have once again captured the Canadian championship for a petroleum geology case study competition.

To take first place, the Earth Sciences Imperial Barrel Award Team known as ‘Rock Enerji’ had to beat teams from Dalhousie, Western, McMaster, Calgary and Alberta. They will now get to represent the country at the world competition in Long Beach, California this April.

Rock Enerji is made up of Frank Ryan, a B.Sc. (Earth Sciences) alumni who is currently working on a MBA at Memorial; Megan McDonald, an undergraduate B.Sc. student (Earth Sciences) and Lucy Newton, Ezgi Cinar and Kaan Eroglu, who are all graduate students in Earth Sciences.

Dr. Elliott Burden, a professor of Earth Sciences and the team’s coach, said the judges evaluated the team’s overall presentation as ‘outstanding’.

“It was an amazing team effort,” he said. “I viewed their presentation and it was like a masterpiece being produced. I was very impressed with them.”

This is the third year Memorial teams have participated in the Canadian event. The 2009 team also won the competition and placed third in the international event. In 2010 the team placed a close second at the Canadian competition. The university did not take part in 2011.

“We might not win every year but we are enough of a threat that the other universities sit up and take notice if Memorial is playing. It looks great for Memorial University when we win these events and it speaks highly of our Earth Sciences program that we can compete head-to-head with any other university in Canada.”

The team’s journey began eight weeks ago with a package of geological and geophysical data from the North Sea that the students then had to analyze and predict where an oil exploratory company would need to begin drilling holes.

“The data is often confused, purposely messed up and even suspect,” explained Dr. Burden. “The students who participate in this have to be fully aware of where the pitfalls might be and either do a work around to evade the problem or to find a mathematical solution to answer the problem. As coach, all I can do is help them identify things but I can’t participate in solving the problem.”

Mr. Ryan compares the process to trying to put together a puzzle with only the four corner pieces to work with.

“We have to draw on everything we’ve been taught, everything we’ve read, our own industry experience and our communication and presentation skills to come up with our models to predict what’s in the middle of the puzzle.”

Dr. Burden said the students’ predictions in an earlier competition were right on the money. In at least one instance as there is currently a company drilling near targets they had identified in the competition two years ago.

“So far as we know, targets identified in this project have not been drilled Maybe, in another year or two a company might drill those targets as well,” said Dr. Burden.

The international competition will take place April 20 and 21, immediately preceding the American Association of Petroleum Geologists conference. Six American teams will participate, along with teams representing Africa, Asia/Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East – a total of 12 teams in all.

Both events offer incredible networking and career building opportunities for the student participants, as judges and referees are made up of industry leaders from Canada and around the world.

“When you think about it, it’s the best job interview you can have,” said Mr. Ryan. “It’s a demonstration of your independence and teamwork abilities, and your presentation and public speaking skills. It’s exactly what you would be doing on the job with similar limited resources. A lot of recruiters go to these events.”

Dr. Burden agrees that it’s an important stepping-stone.

“At the end of the day, these are the students that the oil industry wants. I’m a facilitator in this regard for getting our best and brightest students showcased to an industry that may be interested in hiring them. I know when we go to the worlds the judges and referees there will be the leaders in the world oil patch. To be included in that elite crowd speaks so highly of this place and our students.”