Department-wide effort

Utah Won as a Team

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
Members of the IBA-winning University of Utah team – flexing, just a bit. From left: Alexandre Turner, Morgan Rosenberg, Tyler Szwarc, Mason Edwards and Marko Gorenc.
Members of the IBA-winning University of Utah team – flexing, just a bit. From left: Alexandre Turner, Morgan Rosenberg, Tyler Szwarc, Mason Edwards and Marko Gorenc.

By all rights, perhaps, the school may not have been eyed as a factor, much less potential champions, in this year’s AAPG/AAPG Foundation Imperial Barrel Award competition .

Still, the University of Utah took home the IBA trophy at the recent AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Pittsburgh.

Of course, no one but the judges know exactly what happens inside the room once the competition begins, and even hardcore IBA observers find it impossible to predict a winner.

Still, when the Utah winners were announced, a number of people may have been surprised.

The Utah students who participated, though – not so much.

AAPG member Alexandre Turner, one of those on the team, even flexed a little.

“Our level of work dominated the competition,” Turner said, still in the flush of victory, “and this fact was confirmed again and again by judges at the regional and global level.”

All-righty then.

The Utah team members are AAPG members Mason Edwards, Morgan Rosenberg, Tyler Szwarc and Alexandre Turner, plus Marko Gorenc. And yes, they are proud. And with good cause.

This year’s international competition involved 535 students from 107 colleges and universities.

In the IBA competition, each school is given the same task: To work up and present a detailed assessment of a parcel’s potential for hydrocarbon production using real seismic-imaging and well data.

Here’s AAPG member Lauren Birgenheier, faculty adviser for the Utah students and assistant professor of geology and geophysics at the university.

“The Utah Barrelmen (a team name they have given themselves) were given a dataset from the Cooper-Eromanga Basin in Australia,” she said. “They made a 25-minute presentation to a panel of judges regarding their technical recommendations, followed by a question and answer session.”

Getting to the finals, and then winning finals, was the last step of a difficult journey. To get to Pittsburgh, the Utes had to first compete in Denver, at the Rocky Mountain Section competition, against Brigham Young University, Idaho; Colorado School of Mines; Montana State University-Bozeman; Northern Arizona University; and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

It was an intense few months, one in which Rosenberg said condenses time and strengthens friendships.

“When our group of graduate students arrived at the University of Utah, we quickly became a very close group,” he noted, “to the point where it’s still hard to believe that we have only known each other for a few years.”

Career Path Curriculum

The Imperial Barrel Award comes with a $20,000 prize check, which AAPG member Cari Johnson, an associate professor and chair of geology and geophysics at the school, said comes with “bragging rights.”

But more importantly, Birgenheier says, “the money will go toward petroleum-related curriculum and student scholarships, either directly or as a seed for a new endowed fund.”

It’s what the students wanted.

“We asked them,” she said.

These students were advised by not only Birgenheier, but also by AAPG member Lisa Stright, an assistant professor of geology and geophysics. Aksel Quintus-Bosz of Chevron and AAPG member Matt Heumann of ConocoPhillips served as the team’s industry consultants.

Specifically, as it relates to the university, team member Gorenc gives the credit for the win to the school’s focus on its students, faculty and program.

“Our victory is a direct reflection of our department’s commitment to developing excellent geoscientists, and our strong connection to industry,” he said.

Before the five students could compete on Utah’s IBA team, they had to first complete the university’s rigorous Petroleum Industry Career Path course series, in which the focus is geology and geophysics with industry applications, and also had summer internships in 2012.

“That helped us build a wide range of skills that were utilized for this project,” Gorenc said.

It ‘Makes a Difference’

Birgenheier says the award is a confirmation of sorts.

“The contest doesn’t really change how I approach teaching geology,” she said, adding, the IBA win speaks to:

  • The creativity, drive and intellect of the students of these five gentlemen, as well as the many other high-caliber students that we are fortunate to have at University of Utah.”
  • “The level of preparation that these students had throughout their curriculum (and research) at University of Utah and a previous institutions.”
  • “The experience each student has had with major petroleum companies.”

She is referring to the participation (for both graduate and undergraduate students) in a Petroleum Industry Career Path (PICP) curriculum. This program consists of four half-semester courses in sequence on various aspects of petroleum geology, including:

  • Basic petroleum elements (field and classroom).
  • Well log analysis, seismic acquisition and processing.
  • Geologic seismic interpretation.
  • Electives such as reservoir characterization and modeling, basin analysis, petroleum systems modeling, sequence stratigraphy and depositional environments.

“We often see the students come back to their research and classes in the fall much stronger after their internship, with new skills – technical, professional and personal,” Birgenheier said.

Beyond the money, then, beyond the trophy, she says of the university – and of the students themselves – “This really makes a difference.”

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