August 2016

Executive viewpoint

Well, good luck with that
John C. Tobin / Natural Resources Education Program

The Natural Resources Education Program (NREP) is a start-up effort aimed at adding natural resources content to STEM /earth sciences (geology and technology) and civics (the reality of above-ground issues associated with development) curriculum at the 11th- and 12th-grade levels in Colorado.

NREP wants to help develop “science-savvy citizens,” who will graduate from high school with an appreciation for the role that natural resources will play throughout their lifetimes. NREP also wants to encourage these students to consider the natural resource industry as a career. Few would question these noble aspirations—they truly represent “motherhood, apple pie and the flag.” And when we introduce this concept, the response, almost every time, is a very complimentary, “Well, good luck with that.”

The issue really is, in today’s “recovery” to the $50/bbl range, will the industry “walk the walk,” as it did in supporting the startup of the Energy Institute Magnet High School in Houston (EIMHS—see SPE paper 174776, “Walking the walk: Industry support of natural resource high school education”)? Of course, that support came in a $100/bbl environment.

The current reality is that when reminded, in the words of the first great energy economist, Flumius, in 157 BC, “Prandium gratuitum non exstat” (translation: “there is no such thing as a free lunch”), the response is once again, “Well, good luck with that,” in a much more downcast and apologetic tone.

Maintaining human capital. The collapse from $100 will, most likely, bring a new era to the petroleum industry and natural resource extraction. The business model could evolve into more of a manufacturing (or “manufracuring”) type of operation. It would be a $40-to-$70 world and require fewer, but specialized, project management corporate staff, as well as an expanded role for the service industry to operate and produce these resources. Net employment would be less than the $100/bbl industry.

Nevertheless, human capital must be replaced from the recent contraction, to meet future retirements. This will be even more important with the “variable cost” workforce now in the operation and production segment that experienced that largest cutbacks for the past year or two. And these employees will require even more, and specialized, expertise.

The reason for the questions raised here, is that NREP realizes that the evolution of price will drive not only the industry’s workforce needs, but it also will drive the industry’s interest in financially supporting programs, such as NREP. (Is this a vicious or virtuous circle? Never mind, just a point to ponder.)

This spring, the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) received about 13,000 applications. CSM offered 4,000 acceptances, hoping to fill 1,300 freshman slots. Does this sample, from only one school, mean that there is more than enough interest in the industry to keep the pipeline full? All in spite of the headlines about industry image and layoffs, and stories in the newspaper of even petroleum engineering graduates having trouble finding jobs.

Three basic themes. NREP’s conceptual portfolio of courses contains three basic “ologies” (themes) in its approach to preparing students to become “science-savvy citizens” and to undertake higher education toward careers in the industry.

Geology looks at resources as something found in nature that has an economic use in society. This includes those resources that occur below the surface of the earth, and those, such as water, found on and below the surface. Given that a significant component of natural resources targets energy, renewable and unconventional forms of energy also will be included.

A second theme in this portfolio will be the technology of developing these resources. This includes all aspects of engineering, from obtaining the resource in a form that will be turned into a valuable product for society, to mitigating any environmental impact of such development.

Much of the public interest and concern regarding the development of natural resources has taken on an evangelical fervor.

Therefore, a key third theme for all instruction is instilling the value system (theology) of “prudent development.” The courses will include above-ground issues that impact development, risk analysis that enters the investment decision process, and the uncertainties from natural resource prices that impact employment and government revenues, etc. This theme is really the key to the innovative approach of the NREP package. It represents education in the real-world business environment that everyone in the industry must face.

A second innovative feature to meet a statewide target is that the delivery system must use an online platform, so that we can reach all schools in Colorado. This scalable feature can go beyond Colorado. This past year, Houston’s EIMHS had 1,000 applicants for 250 slots in its incoming class. The school hopes to use such an online platform to reach those other interested students.

In summary, whether a student wants to find a career in the natural resource industries or pursue other areas, this philosophy is critical in building natural resource-literate, science-savvy citizens, who can make informed, well-reasoned decisions about the production, use and regulation of natural resources.

Please help us determine if NREP is worth our effort. What will it take you, the members of the industry, to back up your statement of “Well, good luck with that,” with once again walking the walk? Education programs, such as NREP, have always been in the industry’s interest and are a highly leveraged investment in your future. NREP would truly appreciate your perspective and, of course, your support. wo-box_blue.gif

About the Authors
John C. Tobin
Natural Resources Education Program
John C. Tobin is President of the Natural Resources Education Program. He has been an SPE Distinguished Lecturer, and has authored numerous economic and technical papers. Mr. Tobin has been an adjunct instructor at Colorado School of Mines’ Department of Petroleum Engineering. His more than 50 years of experience include positions with Arco, Scientific Software Corp., Martin Marietta and Eastman Kodak. He holds BS (1964) and MS (1966) degree from the University of Rochester, NY, in mechanical and aerospace sciences. Contact:
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