Geology department to introduce new energy institute

Responding to a globally increasing demand for energy, TCU is forming a multidisciplinary energy institute to prepare students for work in various facets of the energy industry.The institute, which plans to offer undergraduate and graduate coursework in the departments of geology, engineering, environmental science and in the Neeley School of Business, will focus on the exploration, extraction and transportation of carbon-based energy along with a study of new drilling technologies involved in the processes.

“Everything we do will be designed to provide additional educational and research opportunities for students and faculty,” said Michael McCracken, dean of the College of Science and Engineering. “What this will do is open up, for those that have an interest, a fairly wide array of additional employment opportunities.”

Though the College of Science and Engineering will be most heavily involved, McCracken, one of the main pioneers of the institute, said the program will also offer classes for business students with an interest in the energy industry.

McCracken said courses centered on the development of alternate energy are also vital to the institute’s curriculum, but due to TCU’s location atop the Barnett Shale, the initial thrust will emphasize petroleum products such as natural gas.

Where TCU sits “may be the most intense concentration of gas in the whole U.S.,” McCracken said, illustrating the area’s enormous opportunity. “It’s an obvious niche.”

Because many other shale formations exist worldwide, McCracken said, experience with the “Barnett play,” as the reservoir is known as among industry professionals, will give students ample opportunity to apply their skills after graduation.

McCracken also said interaction with local energy companies involved in exploration of the shale is a major advantage resulting from TCU’s proximity to the Barnett Shale.

As for internships and employment opportunities for students, McCracken said he anticipates financial and consultative support from various companies and individuals, with whom the institute will have a symbiotic relationship.

“Support this operation,” McCracken said in his message to energy executives. “Down the road there will be a payback.”

The payback, McCracken said, will materialize in the form of interns and employees along with valuable research and technology the institute will provide.

Ken Morgan, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering, said some companies are interested in involvement beyond financial support, including the possibility of teaching classes.

Industry professionals also comprise the institute’s advisory board, which will help guide the program, modifying the curriculum according to the industry’s trends.

Morgan describes the members of the board as the “whose who of the Barnett Shale,” many of whom, such as the founders of Four Sevens Resources Co., are TCU alumni.

McCracken said Larry Brogdon, ex-TCU football player and original Four Sevens partner, along with others at Four Sevens, have been big supporters and have a strong interest in the project.

On March 2, the board of trustees signed a letter of intent to name Four Sevens the university’s natural gas operator, giving the energy company exclusive rights to negotiate a lease for TCU’s share of the Barnett Shale.

The development of the institute began during the fall, McCracken said, when several mechanical engineering graduates now involved in offshore drilling told the department it would have been helpful to know the basics of petroleum engineering.

McCracken said it was the suggestion to add petroleum-oriented engineering classes to the college’s curriculum in conjunction with the frenzy surrounding the Barnett Shale that led to the formation of the institute.

“Several things came together for us,” McCracken said. “It just kind of snowballed from there.”

Now students can get a background in energy engineering, especially petroleum, even if they plan to take a different route.

Matt Koehler, a junior geology major, said a petroleum background will be good for all students who are unsure where they will end up professionally.

And for students who know they want to enter the energy industry, Koehler said, “It will help get us on the right foot so we’re not going into internships so blindly.”

McCracken said the progress of the institute is beyond the theoretical stage and a director and a prominent energy executive, should be named within two to four weeks.

If all goes according to plan, the director will begin speaking to energy companies on behalf of the institute this summer, requesting feedback and contributions.

Morgan said the first class for the fall, in which students will use computer software to interpret seismic data, has already been approved and will be taught by an adjunct specialist.

During the next year, McCracken said he hopes to add one or two full-time faculty members to start developing the academic aspect of the program while the director continues work on the industry side.

The coursework, he said, will reflect the industry’s concern for the environment and will be a guiding principle of the curriculum.

Morgan hopes that eventually the institute will become a hub for workshops and symposia related to energy engineering, a model for similar areas around the world.

“Everybody is looking at this,” Morgan said. “This area, and TCU being here, is on the map worldwide.