U of U New Graduate Program: Innovating Utah’s Energy

Starting this fall, a new University of Utah graduate program is poised to begin producing leaders for the petroleum engineering industry.  Students in the program will have one of the world’s most promising and abundant energy regions as their backyard classroom.


Energy development has been a key driver of economic growth in many parts of the world, including Utah’s own Uintah Basin. This rapid growth has led to a growing shortfall in the energy industry’s demand for highly educated engineers. More importantly, this growth trend is expected to continue both in Utah and the United States.  The International Energy Agency has estimated that the United States will be the top worldwide producer of oil by 2020.

“Currently Utah has the ninth highest gas production and eleventh highest oil production in the nation, yet graduates a very limited number of engineers to meet industry needs,” saidAl Walker, director of the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative   East region.  “This program will expand the potential for Utah engineers to direct this industry in a socially and environmentally conscious manner.”

The new graduate program, a Master of Science in Petroleum Engineering, will be taught by faculty from the U of U’s Department of Chemical Engineering,   Energy & Geosciences Institute (EGI) and Department of Geology & Geophysics.  John McLennan, Ph.D., USTAR researcher and associate professor of chemical engineering, is the program coordinator.

In order to meet industry demand with top tier talent, the program is designed to produce petroleum engineers who will couple their engineering know-how with knowledge and experience of responsible development for oil and gas resources.

“Economic and environmentally responsible extraction, transportation, distribution and use of hydrocarbons play a significant role in our nation’s need for guaranteed domestic energy supplies during the next half-century,” said McLennan. “This program is intended to provide new and experienced graduates with the opportunity to immediately participate in the petroleum industry.”

As U.S. domestic energy production grows, so will the number of high-paying engineering jobs. Energy related economic growth is projected to increase substantially in coming decades in Utah’s Uintah Basin, and other energy rich regions throughout the United States. That economic growth will increase the supply of high paying jobs and innovators from across the world. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show that working engineers with at least a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering earn a median salary of $114,080 and the field is predicted to grow 17 percent by 2020.

The program is tailored for working energy professionals and recent graduates to update and expand their skills in-classroom and with web-based courses in drilling and completions, geoscience, production operations, petrophysics, reservoir characterization, safety, well testing and evaluation, pipeline and refinery operation, as well as societal considerations of energy production. The program has a three-week resident component that includes a field study of Utah hydrocarbon resources and geoscience, followed by a 3-D reservoir simulation.   A capstone project that can be based on a professional’s ongoing work completes the program.

The program also grants student access to USTAR’s world-class researchers, including McLennan, who works to develop the next generation of energy technologies, reduce carbon emissions and develop new methodologies for energy exploration and production.  This degree fulfills a primary long-range goal of EGI, and answers the call from energy producers and regulatory agencies for petroleum engineers who are industry savvy in both the conventional and unconventional energy sectors.

USTAR’s Eastern Utah Technology Outreach Innovation Program (TOIP) is also assisting research, industry and entrepreneurial leaders to responsibly produce and consume energy from Utah’s abundant resources. Focusing on three main areas: environmental responsibility, energy resource security and advanced geoscience technology, the team is looking forward to working with the newest additions to Utah’s growing energy workforce.

“In designing this program, we first looked to align the curriculum with the current demands from industry,” said Walker. “In addition, in our work with USTAR we kept an eye to the future to ensure that we are educating innovators and entrepreneurs for Utah’s energy industry.”

To learn more about the U of U Masters in Petroleum Engineering program or to register visit: http://www.che.utah.edu/graduate/petroleum_engineering