There is good news for anyone wanting to make a career in the growing field of gas development! This year, after more than a dozen years, students will be able to study for a degree in natural gas engineering at Texas A&M University, Kingsville.
When the university’s engineering program started in the 1930s, this natural gas degree was among the first introduced by Frank Dotterweich, a former dean and now the namesake of the engineering school. For most of the 20th century, countless engineers graduated with this degree and went to work in the oil and gas industry. As the Kingsville university president said, “We were internationally famous for that program.” But it started to become less popular in the 1990s when fuel prices were very low and led to a weak market for job seekers. Texas A&M suspended the degree in 2000, but still kept a graduate degree in the area for those wishing to specialize.
But things have changed, and now Texas is in the middle of an energy boom, which is especially advantageous for the Kingsville campus of Texas A&M because of its proximity to the Eagle Ford shale. The boom in natural gas industry jobs have created renewed interest in getting this type of engineering degree. And the fast pace of technological advancement in this field has increased the need for well educated professionals who are able to use the specialized technologies that gas production uses today. There is also a need for people who know how to design pipelines to take natural gas to the market, and at the moment there is a void of qualified candidates. Currently, many companies are training engineers from other fields in gas and gas pipeline engineering themselves.
By January 2112, the Texas A&M was getting at least five calls a week inquiring about a degree in natural gas engineering. Former students and also energy industry groups took the initiative to push for the return of this degree option, which was approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in June 2112. Stephen Nix, the current dean of the Dotterweich College of Engineering said, “We are certainly excited to offer this type of opportunity for students in South Texas.”
Students choosing to major in natural gas engineering this year will take classes through the engineering college’s Department of Chemical and Natural Gas Engineering. The first course started with the new academic year recently and is entitled Fundamentals of Reservoir Engineering. The class has space for 20 students. Mr. Nix told reporters that some of those students would be incoming freshman, but others will be older students who will transfer into the program. He characterized them as “waiting in the wings” for the natural gas degree to be offered again. The goal is to have a minimum of 60 students in the program by 2017. Mr. Nix asserted that in a few years the programs new graduates will be well equipped to pursue professional opportunities in natural gas, which he claims is “the fuel of the 21st century”.
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