IN PLAY: SD School of Mines Launches Energy Education Opportunities

Changes to the economy brought about by regional petroleum development have led the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology at Rapid City, S.D., to enhance the educational opportunities it provides students.
By Patrick C. Miller | July 17, 2014

Changes to the economy brought about by regional petroleum development have led the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology at Rapid City, S.D., to enhance the educational opportunities it provides students.

The school recently announced that it is adding a minor in petroleum systems as part of a broader energy resource initiative. Last April, it launched the Shale Research Initiative to assess the feasibility of beginning the nation’s first underground shale research laboratory.

“The energy industry is rapidly growing in our region,” says Heather Wilson, the school’s president. “Many of our graduates are already hired into the industry, and we are well positioned to expand both teaching and research in this field.”

To emphasize the point, the School of Mines’ geological engineering graduates have a 100 percent placement rate and are also offered the highest average starting salary—nearly $71,000 annually. It also helps that SDSMT is equidistant from the Williston Basin in North Dakota, the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and the Denver Basin in Colorado.

As one of four universities in the nation to offer all three core disciplines for mineral industries—mining engineering, metallurgical engineering and economic geology—the School of Mines was among a select group of educational institutions invited to testify June 24 before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources at an oversight hearing on “American Energy Jobs: Opportunities for Education.”

Duane Hrncir, provost and vice president for academic affairs, testified about the university’s expanding energy efforts.

“Through their programs of study, our students gain an understanding of how these disciplines are entwined from the discovery of new mineral resources to the extraction of the resources, and finally the processing to obtain the strategic materials needed to fuel the nation’s economy,” Hrncir said in his testimony.

The petroleum systems minor was added to attract more students to the geological engineering discipline, as well as those from the mining engineering and management, geology, mechanical engineering, civil engineering and chemical engineering fields. It will serve both upstream and downstream energy industries, encompassing a state-of-the-art laboratory for petrophysics and geomechanics research.

Earlier this year, the School of Mines and its industry partner RESPEC announced the launch of the state-funded Shale Research Initiative. RESPEC is an integrated consulting and services firm with an annual revenue of more than $30 million. Founded in 1969, RESPEC provides clients with technical and advisory services.

The Shale Research Initiative focuses on a range of experiments important to energy and the environment, including enhanced energy production, carbon dioxide sequestration, underground hydrocarbon storage and waste disposal in shale. The newly established state effort will fund drilling and sampling of various shale units, conduct advanced laboratory testing of shale, and perform geo-mechanical analyses to investigate initial design concepts for an underground shale laboratory.

“With regard to the energy industry, our students are conducting research on reservoir modeling, advanced production techniques, sustainable engineering, advanced material design and microbial transformations of energy feedstocks, to name a few,” Hrncir noted in his testimony. “These students will lead the next generation of engineers and scientists who will continue to develop the country’s energy needs in a sustainable way that protects the natural resources and quality of life valued by all of our citizens.”

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university offering bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,640 students from 45 states and 37 countries.