Energy Endeavors Part I: Teachers trek Texas in a week-long energy quest

I’ve always enjoyed traveling. It’s not something I’ve gotten to do as much as I’d like, but I’m working on it. I have fond memories of traveling with my family to places like Washington DC and Williamsburg, with my high school to Spain and Boston, and in college to Florida, Colorado, and England. I enjoy wandering along the back pathways, eating local food and seeing the sights.

Like most people, when I travel I tend to venture far from where I live at the expense of a lot of local destinations. Texas is rich in destinations that deal with energy: The Bureau of Economic Geology in Houston stores core samples from wells around the world.  Schlumberger runs a test rig down in Sugar Land to train their engineers. And there are many, many more.

What better way to go see some of these sights than with a group of interested (and interesting) people? So we created a week-long teacher workshop to visit different energy destinations throughout Texas.

The first day, things got going a little slowly. We waited for everyone to arrive, filled out paper work, and reviewed the week’s objectives. Once that was out of the way, we loaded up in the vans and headed to our first destination – the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) in Austin.

Energy Road TripThe BEG is a great place, and it’s part of the University of Texas system. It’s a large warehouse where they store drilling cores, and scientists and engineers can come and study them. They can pull out cores from different areas from around the world and see what the subsurface geology looks like. This is a must for people looking for crude oil, people looking at how coasts form, and people looking at what type of rocks and at what layers can hold carbon dioxide. The inside of the warehouse looks a bit like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

On day two, we went to two different locations. The first was the test well at Schlumberger. It’s a fully working rig that drills through cement without hope of striking oil, and its purpose is to train field engineers. Schlumberger makes its money not by drilling for oil, but by providing services for the oil industry. Specifically, they’re known for well logging — when you scan the inside of a well for specific attributes, like conductivity and resistivity.

Energy Road Trip

It’s always fun to stand on a rig and talk with the people who run it. One of the major differences between a rig drilling for oil and the test rig is that the people on the test rig often get to go home at the end of the day.

Our second stop of the day was Marathon Oil’s Visionarium. It’s like the Giant Screen Theatre, a conference room, and a digital laboratory all rolled into one. On a 27-foot by 8-foot curved screen, the engineers are able to display data (seismic, pipeline, etc.) and model a geological formation in 2D and 3D (and probably 4D as well).

After that, the people at Marathon did something great — something I’d never seen done.  They asked the teachers their opinions on all the different ways to get kids into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The teachers all answered similarly — the time that makes or breaks science for a kid is in 6th and 7th grade. Kids need to see what options there are for jobs and they need mentoring.

On Wednesday (the third day), we went down to the South Texas Nuclear Project (STP) and took a tour of the facilities. The cooling reservoirs cover a massive 7,000 acres, or 10.9 square miles. The training control room has an exact mockup of STP’s reactor control rooms. Because of the way that licenses are given to nuclear plants, the control rooms haven’t changed much.

In the training control room, unlike the real one, we were able to turn knobs and press buttons. In fact, we were even able to make several of the alarms go off — fun in a training room, but disastrous in a real one.

Energy Road TripAfter that, we took off to Brazosport College. Why Brazosport College, you ask? Because of its Process Operations Management degree and its on-site working chemical plant.  Process operators are the people who run plants — not plants like the ones you find in a greenhouse, but chemical and energy-producing plants. Brazosport offers a two-year program and is able to offer some incredible hands-on experience because it has a small chemical plant onsite, where students experience what happens when they have a blocked pipe or things are flowing incorrectly.

Join me next time here on the blog where we’ll see a coal-fired plant and a drill bit factory.

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