Great potential energy

UAlberta geoscience students win Canadian division, take on international competition in Houston, Texas in mock energy exploration trial.

Katie Willis - 28 March 2017

In January 2017, the University of Alberta's Imperial Barrel Award team received their dataset. Inside was raw geophysical data from a 100 by 40 kilometre area offshore of Northwestern Australia. With only eight weeks to build and analyse a geological model, there wasn't a moment to lose.

The team, made up of five students from the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the Department of Physics, worked nearly every day for the eight weeks before the Canadian Regional Imperial Barrel Award competition. And their efforts paid off in spades.

Their work was in hopes of beating the competition at the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Imperial Barrel Award (IBA). For more than a decade, the IBA has held competitions for universities around the world. Here, graduate and senior undergraduate students have the opportunity to learn about the oil and gas industry from both research and applied technology perspectives. The University of Alberta's Faculty of Science has been a competitor since the beginning, and this year is no different.

National favourites

Graduate students Calla Knudson (EAS), Jared Kugler (EAS), Matthew Sommers (EAS), and Sean Bettac (physics), and senior undergraduate student Kim Wagner (physics) used their dataset and model to propose a set of drilling targets.

"This is much more substantial than any group project assigned in a class," explains Sommers. "The competition closely mirrors a real-world scenario of how some big decisions are made in the energy industry."

Murray Gingras, professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, has coached the University of Alberta's team for a decade. "Analysing data sets of this kind requires advanced skills and is usually done by trained professionals in industry," explains Gingras. "For students to develop these skills in a short eight-week period is really impressive."

"This competition tests you in terms of work ethic, thinking outside the box, and getting comfortable with new types of data and software," explains Knudson. "Going through all of that and seeing everything come together in a way we can be really proud of is very rewarding"

Engaging the influencers

Judged by a panel of industry professionals against other competitors from universities across the country in the Canadian regional competition, the University of Alberta team brought home first place and tickets to the international meeting in Houston, Texas this week. There, the team will compete with other regional winners from around the world.

In addition to developing industry-ready skills and getting a taste for working in the energy sector, the IBA is renowned for its powerful networking opportunities.

"One of the biggest benefits for participating is just being in the room," says Gingras. "Connecting with industry professionals in an arena where you can demonstrate your skills and knowledge presents students with an unparalleled opportunity to network and set themselves up for future career success."

"We are unbelievably excited to be able to represent the Canadian Region and meet fellow rock-lovers from around the world," says Kugler.

Congratulations to the team on their success thus far, and good luck in Houston!