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By Deb Austreng and Brandon Beyer, University of North Dakota

Hess and Drilling Systems/Drilling Simulator Lab. Photo by David A. Olson.

The University of North Dakota (UND), College of Engineering and Mines located in Grand Forks, ND, has just installed its first full-scale drilling and well control simulator in its new pioneering Collaborative Energy Complex (CEC), home to the UND Department of Petroleum Engineering and Institute for Energy Studies. The simulator provided by global simulator technology specialists Drilling Systems, will enable them to hugely expand their teaching capabilities in the field of oil and gas drilling operations and well control, a standard of knowledge and experience now expected of new students entering the industry.

The new Drilling Systems 5000 ‘conventional’ drilling simulator replicates a real drill-floor environment in exacting detail, providing a real-life experience for students, researchers, and professionals alike. The simulator allows the instructor team to set up any drilling and well control scenario based on actual events experienced in the field. Learning within such a real-world environment will not only allow the students to experience and learn how to carry our day-to-day drilling operations, but also how to react and control stressful and potentially hazardous situations in complete safety. Additionally, companies in the Bakken can also utilize this simulator to train their workforce, allowing them to gain field experience right on the campus of the University of North Dakota.

This is another exciting chapter in the story of the college’s Petroleum Engineering program, which didn’t exist in 2008.

Collaborative Energy Center. Exterior photo by David A. Olson.

“Before I arrived at the University of North Dakota in 2008, I was still down in my Texas office when I received a phone call from Bob Solberg [in] Houston, TX. Bob, a retired Texaco executive, is well respected in the oil and gas industry worldwide and also happens to be a UND alumnus. He was curious about my plans to capitalize on the energy sector when I arrived on campus in Grand Forks as the new dean of the College of Engineering and Mines. The vision for a Petroleum Engineering program began with that phone call, even though I didn’t have a clear determination of what it would look like at that time,” says Hesham El-Rewini, UND senior vice provost and dean of the college.

The undergraduate Petroleum Engineering program at UND began in 2010 with just four students. But in a matter of a couple years, the number increased exponentially to 300 students. As the price of oil began to fall over the program’s beginning years, intentions with the program never wavered. The administration quickly realized that at a time when industry professionals would struggle to find work, they would turn towards furthering their education in their field. Recognizing this, the college began offering graduate programs in the fall of 2016 to address the demand of these individuals. The expectations of the demand for these programs has quickly been confirmed, the college now expects over 30 students in its graduate programs for Petroleum Engineering just a year after they began.

Australian Consul-General Michael Wood receives a demonstration of UND’s College of Engineering & Mines new drilling simulator. Pictured with the graduate student are Michael Wood, Hesham El-Rewini, and Tom Erickson, UND. Photo by David A. Olson.

“Much of the success that we have achieved in our Petroleum Engineering Department can be attributed to the partnerships that we have established over the past few years. Companies that operate in the Bakken have been able to find value in partnering with our college to ensure that the next generation of their workforce is prepared both technically and professionally. The generosity of industry leaders, such as Continental Resources and Hess Corporation, have assisted in laying the foundations for the program. Our Industry Advisory Council, made up of nearly two dozen different company participants, assists us in adapting and preparing our students with the skills and knowledge that companies are looking for in their future employees,” says El-Rewini.

On January 1, 2017, the doors of the Collaborative Energy Complex opened to students.  Funded primarily with private donations, this faculty has more than 37,000 square feet of research and teaching labs, active learning classrooms, the Big Ideas Gym (BIG – an idea generator from which innovation and creativity will emerge), space for interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty, students and professionals in the energy industry, multiple study spaces and the Solberg Student Success Center.

“The next great petroleum engineering breakthrough will someday be linked to the University of North Dakota,” El-Rewini confidently states.

Visit their website at engineering.und.edu.