One of the largest active oil fields in the world is the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas. Area colleges and universities are taking advantage of their proximity to the massive oil and natural gas formation to develop the expertise and skilled workforce needed to sustain this boom.
The College of Engineering at Texas A&M University-Kingsville recently established an Eagle Ford Center for Research, Education and Outreach to set up a nationally competitive environmental engineering program. The center focuses on bringing industry and communities together to promote sustainability and safety standards throughout the Eagle Ford Shale.
“The Eagle Ford region is a game changer, because until recently, it has been coveted only for its oil, but now it has been discovered that natural gas can be extracted from the shale that is drilled through to get the oil,” says Dr. Kim Jones, professor and Chair of Environmental Engineering at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. “Our center is studying how to extract the gas in the most environmentally safe way, which could ultimately lead the nation and world into new and better extraction methods to be utilized for this industry.”
Dr. Jones has been the Chair of the Texas A&M University-Kingsville's Environmental Engineering Department for 15 years, following 11 years in the petroleum industry, is also proud that the university recently established a PhD program for engineering. Seventeen students have already earned engineering doctorates.
“A&M-Kingsville has actually had an Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment for 12 years that studies issues such as groundwater, air emissions and storm water management, and the institute continues to thrive,” he says. “Now, our Eagle Ford Center will be studying the recycling of frac sand, water, controlling oil and gas emissions at the source, pipeline safety and other environmental concerns. Our little university is having a profound impact in environmental engineering. A lot of focus is on A&M-Kingsville these days from a lot of people.”
The center is housed in the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering, which also offers programs in architectural, chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, and recently reinstated its former natural gas engineering program to meet local industry demand.
Other area colleges and universities are developing programs and workforce talent to prepare students for jobs in the region's top industries. Del Mar College's engineering technology program trains students for high-demand jobs in fields such as automated manufacturing, energy production and refining. The college is also focusing on developing troubleshooting programs for the region's burgeoning alternative energy industry.
Coastal Bend College has introduced a curriculum devoted to petroleum industries training, and the program is already one of the most popular at the college. At the college's Kingsville campus, students can choose from programs aimed at other aspects of industrial technology, as well as computer information technology.
A recent addition to the academic lineup at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is a mechanical engineering degree, with local companies Flint Hills Resources and AEP Texas providing foundational support to make the program possible. The university also has plans to introduce a new bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and continues to build upon its STEM-based programs to serve the changing needs of the region's industrial base.
“For our fall 2013 semester, we had a record enrollment of 970 students in our School of Engineering and Computer Sciences, and the numbers continue to grow,” says Dr. L.D. Chen, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi director of the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences. “Local engineering industries are looking for qualified people in a variety of energy and technical sectors, and we are responding to this demand.”
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi also offers a cyber security program that has been endorsed and recognized by the National Security Agency, and a geospatial survey engineering program that is gaining international attention.
“We are taking the lead in filling top geospatial jobs around the world – we are even working with universities in China and Russia,” Dr. Chen says. “It’s an exciting time to be in engineering, and especially the engineering programs at A&M-Corpus Christi.”
Learn more about Coastal Bend's colleges and universities.