Blog | energy4me

A one-hour volunteer session can lead to a life-long career in oil and gas

Being an Energy4me volunteer means getting the opportunity to make the simple seem extraordinary. To take everyday items and turn them into learning tools. To make a bottle of water and some oil show eager minds how molecules behave.

Being an Energy4me volunteer means that you get to be part of the wonder that is the potential of a life in STEM. Two volunteers experienced this in Benin City, Nigeria. Engineers Ifeanyi Ndukwe and Peter Asemota visited the St. Maria Goretti Girls Secondary School where more than 450 students were waiting to greet them.

Our Energy4me volunteers were greeted which much enthusiasm.

Spreading the message of the importance of pursing STEM related subjects, the Energy4me volunteers then spent some time in the classroom, showing students how oil and water don’t mix and what that means for the oil and gas industry.

The Energy4me program is designed not only to teach the public about the exciting scientific concepts that are dealt with in the real world, but also to have the audience discover these concepts themselves by participating in the activity. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Students playing the Peak Oil Game

Students played the Peak Oil Game which uses beans, spoons and some paper bags to show how technology and the right decision making can lead to the discovery of potential energy.

It’s a great game that both educates and spurs and competition among students as they learn the important lesson of cooperation between various sectors within the industry. After completing the game, one student said, “This is fun. Now I know what I want to be when I grow up.”

Of course, learning isn’t always just for students. As the Energy4me volunteer, Ndukwe also gained some knowledge.

“The activity is one of the most amazing ways to introduce kids to the energy sector and it was a success,” he said. “I totally enjoyed the session, and it even strengthened my knowledge during the exercise.”

Energy4me helps to dispel the myths about the industry and educate students about the many career opportunities that await aspiring students. Teachers at St. Maria Goretti understood that potential and inquired if Ndukwe and Asemata would be available to work with the students again.

This is one of the main objectives of the Energy4me program –building a relationship beyond just the interaction with our activities. Energy4me has a range of volunteers that have given their time to mentor and answer all of the questions that the public might have.

There is no better reward than giving back to the community that has given you so much and thanks to the SPE Benin Section, we might have a few future leaders and energy professionals that emerge out of this school visit.

Bacteria lead the way to more efficient oil production

Photo: Biota / Biota

Biota, a California startup, is developing a means of improving oil and gas operations by analyzing the bacteria that emerge from the wellhead. Photo: Biota

In the rocky depths of the nation’s shale oil fields, thousands of feet below the production frenzy, primordial bacteria subsist on the very hydrocarbons that make up oil and gas and have transformed the U.S. into an energy powerhouse rivaling Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The microbes are among the least-studied life forms on earth, emerging to the surface as anonymous organisms thought to have evolved within the harsh extremes of the subsurface over hundreds of millions of years. Oil and gas producers for decades paid them limited attention — until a cutting-edge startup recognized their potential to help produce oil and gas even more efficiently.

Now, as industry competition intensifies, a growing number of producers have partnered with Biota, a startup developing the means of achieving that goal by analyzing the bacteria that emerge from the wellhead. More than 20 producers in the Permian Basin and elsewhere have shipped rock and fluid samples to the company’s San Diego lab, intrigued by the promise of data that could help them drill more precisely, lower production costs and boost profits.

Think of it as biotechnology meets petroleum engineering. Unique microbial colonies reside within the various layers, cracks and faults in any given oil basin, making it possible to discern the boundaries of deep underground formations by analyzing the DNA of the bacteria within them. In the Permian, for example, bacteria in two overlapping layers — the Bone Spring and the Wolfcamp — are biologically distinct, providing markers that could determine whether a well is drawing from one source or the other during the course of operations.

That’s critical information for drillers trying to make the best use of each well. Right now, if a company drills two wells, one targeting the Bone Spring, the other the Wolfcamp, it is challenged to know for sure if those wells are drawing from their intended targets. Both wells could be sucking oil from, say, the Bone Spring, depleting that source more quickly while missing out on the crude from the Wolfcamp.

Biota CEO Ajay Kshatriya, a chemical engineer who grew up in Katy and spent much of his career in California’s biotech industry, compares oilfield acreage to a six-pack of soda, each can a distinct formation or reservoir. The producer aims to place one straw in each can, but sometimes, two straws wind up in the same can, doubling the company’s cost to produce what could have been done with one. And there’s the chance that some cans will remain unopened, leaving profits underground.

“By understanding the boundaries of those cans,” Kshatriya said, “you know where to put the wells.”

For all of their advanced technology — seismic imaging, computer models and production monitors — energy companies still can’t be certain where oil and gas is coming from once the shale rock is shattered through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It’s like throwing a rock at a window; even with perfect planning and aim, the cracks will zig-zag unpredictably in any direction. It becomes even more unpredictable thousands of feet below ground.

That’s where the bacteria, among the earth’s oldest organisms, come in. Over the eons, the bacteria adapted to particular conditions underground, diversifying genetically into different strains depending on heat, pressure and other conditions in the mishmash of prehistoric sediment overlapping in different formations. In other words, the strains of bacteria in the Wolfcamp have a different genetic makeups than those in the Bone Spring.

Biota, which has offices in California and Houston, uses DNA sequencing, computer algorithms and a proprietary database to identify the strains of bacteria that come up through oil and gas wells and maps those microbes to their respective formations based on where the samples were taken. Drawing on more than 20,000 samples from some 500 wells in the Permian and nine other basins, Biota has analyzed more than 400 million DNA sequences from the nation’s most prolific production areas, and recently began working with offshore customers in the Gulf of Mexico and Asia.

As the map becomes more extensive and detailed, oil and gas companies would be able to confirm the source of crude — and adjust operations as needed — with information about the bacteria produced from the well. It’s another tool for an industry than can no longer count on $100 a barrel oil to cover cost overruns, especially as investors increase pressure to keep a lid on costs and boost profits.

Marathon Oil and EP Energy of Houston and Anadarko Petroleum of The Woodlands have signed on with Biota, as have Norway’s Equinor and Australia’s BHP Billiton, among others. Recently, Midland’s Concho Resources, Pennsylvania’s EQT Resources and Malaysia’s Petronas joined the customer roster.

John Gibson, chairman of energy technology at Houston energy investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt & Co., has worked for the past year to connect Biota with the bank’s oil and gas clients, extolling the insights expected to come when the company has analyzed enough bacterial DNA to map wide production areas. The bank has not invested in Biota.

“The more we know about the bacteria, the more we know about the reservoir,” Gibson said. “There is enormous potential here.”

For oil and gas companies, the data has the potential to show far more than how a single well performs once it’s fracked. Data from multiple wells could determine how they interact and help producers find the optimal number of wells to develop a reservoir. And it could enable them to monitor production over time — a well that starts off siphoning oil from the Wolfcamp, for example, could, at some point, begin to draw from a different formation.

Anadarko was one of the first companies to conduct a large-scale pilot program with Biota last January, starting with a study of 33 wells in the Delaware region of the Permian. It has since expanded the study to include more than 100 wells there in pursuit of a broader data set that could help it enhance its drilling models and more quickly determine the most efficient means of achieving production targets.

Blunt, K. (2018). Bacteria lead the way to more efficient oil production. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Sep. 2018].

Working in petroleum: it’s a sweet job

Who knew that heavy crude oil could be delicious?

Secondary students at the Bayflower International School in Benin City, Nigeria, were treated to some fun and educational experiments recently through SPE’s Energy4me program. The 30 students had a taste of the types of work that petroleum engineers do in the exploration and production of oil and natural gas.

Students experiment on extracting oil in this experiment.

Through the Energy4me presentation, students learned the importance of pursuing STEM-related school subjects and career paths. SPE member Ugochi Akwiwu, projects officer for Nigerian Petroleum Development Co., led the presentation, which included an activity called Getting the Oil Out. This simple experiment explains how artificial lift extracts light and heavy crude.

Of course, Energy4me does not recommend tasting crude oil! In our experiment, light crude is represented by soda while chocolate syrup stands in for heavy crude. Hence, its tastiness! “Heavy crude tastes delicious, but is a lot of work to extract,” one student told Akwiwu. She also had the students perform the Sedimentation Bottle experiment, which illustrates in a very simplistic way why the different layers of sub-surface materials formed the way that they did.

“I enjoyed talking with the class, and the students’ energy was quite infectious,” Akwiwu said. “I was able to talk about oil spillage, environmental implication and clean-up during the Getting the Oil Out activity when we had an issue of a ‘pipe’ rupture with one of the straw tubes.”

Ugochi Akwiwu hands out materials for an experiment.

Having industry professionals come into the classroom and interact with students via Energy4me highlights the importance of making the right decisions during early stages of an engineering project. Students not only learn about the industry through the Energy4me hands-on activities, but also hear about the lives of the engineers through a career talk and question and answer session.

Energy4me is not a boring lecture, and combining the hands-on activities with a discussion about life in the industry helps students put a face to the industry and understand what is required to be successful.

The Energy4me excitement is evident in the students’ reactions. They said the presentation was “very enlightening and educational.” As an SPE member giving an Energy4me presentation, you know you are successful when a student asks “if the engineers can come back again.”

Or course, teachers love Energy4me also. Program resources are available free to the teachers, allowing them to further educate their students in a fun and dynamic way. The teacher asked Akwiwu if she could conduct similar sessions with the students during regular class time. Absolutely – Energy4me provides instructions for many hands-on activities for all grade levels.

Shaking up a bottle to learn how sediment forms under the earth’s crust.

“As I left the classroom that day, the teacher said the presentation was fun, and it made the students interested in science,” Akwiwu said. “I look forward to doing more Energy4me presentations and encouraging my section members to do likewise.”

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Q&A: Chevron exec encourages more girls to enter male-dominated technical fields

By Jordan Blum April 6, 2018

A Houston native, Janeen Judah was one of the few women to take up petroleum engineering in the 1970s. Fast forward, 40 years and she’s retiring this month as an executive at Chevron and as the president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. She’s leaving her position as the general manager of Chevron’s Southern Africa business.

She’ll keep serving as a new board member for Houston drilling and fracking firm Patterson-UTI Energy, but Judah also wants to encourage more girls and young women to enter the so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — that too-often remain male-dominated.

Q: What made you interested in the energy sector, and petroleum engineering in particular?

A: My dad was in the midstream (energy) business. He was and is an engineer. I’ve found that a lot of women who went into engineering in that first wave in the ’70s — a lot of them are either daughters or younger sisters of engineers. It was not something you kind of picked out of the sky normally as a major. I was always a problem solver, and that was really what appealed to me about engineering — the analytical side of it. And I was fascinated by the oil business. You grow up in Houston back then and it was very prevalent and a very fascinating wildcatter kind of business. There was no doubt I wanted to go work in the oil industry.

Q: You earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University. What was the experience and culture like then?

A: Back then, in the late 70s, only about 10 percent of the engineering students were women. It was pretty thin as far as how many women were there. There are some who stuck with it for an entire career, but I’d say probably about half of them ended up laid off in the ’80s or made a choice to stay home. From about ’86 until almost the late ’90s, there were layoffs every year or two at most companies. A lot of them left the industry.

Q: You worked with ARCO before joining Texaco and then Chevron. How was it starting your career in Midland with small companies and then ARCO?

A: I used to always have to explain where the Permian Basin was to people, and nobody asks that question anymore. I lived out there during the ’80s. It was tough times for all of my early career.

Q: Was it particularly tough as a woman?

A: When I first went there it was still the boom and women were extremely unusual in the business. When you went out in the field it was like an event. You were rare and unusual. When I had my first interview out there it was at the old Midland Petroleum Club and women were still not allowed to be members. They had to get special permission for me to eat. That’s the way it was in 1980. Now, it’s much more common to see women. But, back then, you were highly unusual. Almost every industry is male dominated. Energy is maybe a little more macho industry, or maybe more aggressively male than some other places.

Q: Was harassment prevalent?

A: It would generally open like, ‘What’s a women doing here?’ kind of thing. But it wasn’t that common. They knew you were there to do a job and they let you do it. I never experienced anything that was too egregious. It’s a good-paying job, and you work in the field, and you have to be a little tough. And, often as an engineer, you’re the one in charge, so you had to be authoritative. If you were a female rig supervisor, they’ll call you the company man. That’s just the job title.

Q: Is it frustrating to be singled out as a female leader or do you welcome the role model position?

A: Generally, we all want to be treated equally and fairly in our workplace — to just be treated as most of the guys. But we realize — at least I realized —that after a certain point you are an example. You have a duty and an obligation to be visible and to step up and help coach, mentor and give advice to the women who are following you. A lot of us have started doing that. I want to try to make the path easier for others, because mine was hard.

 Q: What’s your point of focus?

A: I personally tend to target mentoring the mid-career technical women. There’s not many like me who are late career with technical backgrounds. I can help with those hard decisions that a lot of women generally make in their mid-30s. I always get asked about work-life balance. I tell them I don’t really believe in a work-life balance; it’s more work-life compromise. Social media doesn’t help where people think everything can be perfect with Instagram and Pinterest. That’s just unrealistic. I don’t know anyone who had it all at the same time. Some things come off the table at certain phases in your life. There are compromises and decisions. If if you have a family and there’s another career involved, then there’s decisions you need to make as a family. I think a lot of women have an unrealistic expectation that there’s some kind of magical balance you can get.

Q: What do you tell them?

A: I talk a lot about perseverance. A lot of women are socialized differently. Little boys, especially through sports, if they get knocked down it’s OK. There’s no broken bones, dust them off, put them back in the game. They’re socialized to not quit and to persevere. I think a lot of girls — it’s, oh, you fell down, sit over here. We socialize that it’s OK to withdraw. I coach mid-career women when they’re facing setbacks or problems to stay in the game.

Q: So it happens from an early age?

A: A lot of girls are discouraged, particularly in high school, from going into engineering by their parents or by school counselors. I don’t think it’s held up as being a good career choice for a girl. They tend to think the boys will be mean and you’ll have to go work out on a construction site or whatever. And you don’t. A lot of what we do is computer based and in an office. If someone’s majoring in environmental policy I ask why did they pick that? If they want to save the planet, why didn’t they go into environmental engineering? They could actually do something to save the planet. A lot of the grand challenges of society are engineering problems – clean air, clean water, clean energy, pollution. I don’t want to scare them off. I want to encourage them to stick with STEM. It makes so many career options open up for girls.

Source: Houston Chronicle:


What Can Be Made from One Barrel of Oil?

Oil gets a bad rap these days, but the stuff is actually quite incredible.

Many people think of crude oil as a thick, black liquid that is used to source our unquenchable thirst for gasoline. However, the reality is that each barrel of oil is refined to be used in a variety of applications that includes fuel, cosmetics, plastics, rubber, and candle wax.

Today’s infographic comes from JWN Energy, an oil and gas news site. Using Chevron as a source, it shows 17 different things that can be made from each barrel of oil.

Here is everything that can be made from just one barrel of oil:

  • Enough gasoline to drive a medium-sized car over 450km (280 miles).
  • Enough distillate fuel to drive a large truck for almost 65km (40 miles). If jet fuel fraction is included, that same truck can run nearly 80km (50 miles).
  • Nearly 70 kWh of electricity at a power plant generated by residual fuel.
  • About 1.8 kg (4 lbs) of charcoal briquettes.
  • Enough propane to fill 12 small (14.1 ounce) cylinders for home, camping or workshop use.
  • Asphalt to make about 3.8 L (one gallon) of tar for patching roofs or streets.
  • Lubricants to make about a 0.95 L (one quart) of motor oil.
  • Wax for 170 birthday candles or 27 wax crayons.

But that’s not all. After producing all of the above products, there’s also enough petrochemicals leftover to be used as a base for one of the following:

  • 39 polyester shirts
  • 750 pocket combs
  • 540 toothbrushes
  • 65 plastic dustpans
  • 23 hula hoops
  • 65 plastic drinking cups
  • 195 one-cup measuring cups
  • 11 plastic telephone housings
  • 135 four-inch rubber balls

Oil is not a one-trick pony, and the gooey black liquid actually has thousands of applications. The above serves as one example of how a barrel could be used, but here’s a list of many other oil applications. It includes everything from guitar strings to antihistamines.

Whatever your opinion is of fossil fuels, it’s still pretty astonishing what can be produced out of each barrel of oil.

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist


Fracturing with gelatin

Making gelatin is fun, and it certainly is delicious. But fracturing gelatin from the inside is a cracking good time.

Hydraulic fracturing was one of the experiments conducted by the SPE Calgary Section during a recent school visit. About 60 students participated in a range of Energy4me activities where they learned concepts such as porosity and perforated well casings in addition to hydraulic fracturing.

Dispelling many of the myths about this form of hydrocarbon production, SPE members explained to students about the technical aspects that are involved in the process, and why it is one of the most regulated and safest forms of hydrocarbon production. The Society of Petroleum Engineers provides good information on hydraulic fracturing on the Energy4me website.

Through Energy4me’s hands-on activities, the students also saw first-hand the results of core sampling on different sub-surface terrains. The SPE members offered instruction on why it is important to use science when investigating what is beneath the surface during hydrocarbon exploration.

From porosity to perforated well casing, students left with a better understanding of the various steps that go into exploration and production.

Globally, Energy4me excites students about the oil and gas industry. Through its award-winning program, Energy4me teaches students that engineers are investigators and problem solvers, often leading to new technologies and innovations for the world’s energy needs.


Sometimes, the right equipment is a spoon

It pays to have the right tool.

That’s the lesson high school students in San Antonio, Texas, learned during an Energy4me workshop. Nearly 100 students competed in the hands-on activity, which challenges them to produce and refine the most amount of oil in the quickest time with the least (or no) amount of spillage or other complications.

Just like real life!

During the activity, students can purchase or exchange various tools that represent advancing technologies in oil and gas exploration. In one game, they learn about exploration, project management and negotiating.

“I loved the peak oil game because it taught me the importance of having the right equipment and right team when doing a task,” one student said.

The Society of Petroleum Engineers conducts Energy4me workshops and presentations all over the world. Through extensive use of hands-on activities, this innovating program, working in conjunction with the NEED project, encourages students to study engineering. In particular, the peak oil game teaches students the value of exploring for and producing hydrocarbons.

Studies prove that hands-on activities create connections between the classroom and real-world situations. This style of teaching also nurtures critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are traits that many employers value.

“The Energy4me workshops not only are a lot of fun for the students, but they also are incredibly educational,” said Mary Spruill, NEED executive director. “Because we use hands-on activities, students do not passively listen to a lecture; they must think through a problem or situation. They learn that they can interpret data, which is a fundamental skill for engineers.”

After completing the activity portion of the workshop, students were then treated to a tour of the exhibition floor where they see all of the technology they just learned. The tour is a true highlight of the workshop and the only way that students can access an SPE exhibit floor.

At the same time, the students were learning about oil and gas, 20 science teachers took part in a separate workshop. Energy4me believes that if we educate a teacher, we educate generations of aspiring engineers.

A 5th grade science teacher said, “I now see the importance of combining hands-on experiments with theory to help increase students understanding.”

Teachers receive a free digital version of the Energy4me teacher kit, which includes many resources that they can take back to the classroom. Teachers also get an exhibition tour.