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Alumnus Sees Great Potential in Petroleum Engineering

March 4, 2019
Group of petroleum engineering students tour oil rig
UW alumnus Ken Baum (left) gives a tour of a rig floor to students. (Ken Baum photo)

Now retired, University of Wyoming graduate Ken Baum can look at oil and gas from a whole different perspective.

He spent more than four decades in the industry. In 2018, he finished a consulting assignment with Noble Energy in Houston as a drilling engineering advisor, and an advisor for global rigs within their supply chain group.

Baum earned his petroleum engineering degree from UW in 1978, and a master’s of business administration from Tulane University in 1989. He also served as a professor of practice in the UW Department of Petroleum Engineering from 2015-16.

What is the state of the industry right now? What is the long-term outlook?
“The industry is growing again, although slowly after a brutal few years in a deep slump, which included many retirements, layoffs and downsizings,” Baum says. “It had again gone into a difficult cycle, leaving many to wonder if there was a future with the industry or not.

“We have been through these difficult cycles many times and always came out stronger facing many opportunities. Longterm, I think the industry will become stronger again and remain driven by the shale industry with horizontal drilling and fracking.”

He adds that oil and gas production will continue to be important worldwide for generations to come. It will not be replaced by electric cars, solar power or other alternatives any time soon. All of these will continue to grow but oil and gas will still dominate world energy for years to come.

Why should students considering enrolling in a petroleum engineering program?
Baum says the petroleum industry offers engineering students a challenging and rewarding career.

“The pay for petroleum engineers typically starts out higher than other professions, and offers the opportunity to work worldwide in every aspect of the industry,” Baum adds. “The petroleum service industry is can be very robust and offers great career opportunities for engineers.”

What are some things about UW's petroleum engineering program that set it apart?
Baum believes UW’s program has unique characteristics that set it apart on the global scale. It is moving quickly into the drilling and operational areas, with the existing WPX drilling simulator facility and expansion of that in the newly opened Engineering Education and Research Building. The focus on bringing in industry experienced "professors of practice" is also a huge positive for the department because it brings in needed practical experience and industry connections.

“For students interested in reservoir engineering, UW can compete with anyone with its state-of-the-art work going on at the High Bay Research Facility and it has always been known as a ‘reservoir school,’” he says.

Can you speak to your own experience with UW, and how it prepares students for success?
Baum’s time as a UW student prepared him by learning about the practical aspects of the business. He points to courses in drilling and operations, and says professors were industry savvy and well connected to energy companies.

“I see the department heading back in that direction, with professors of practice and reconnecting with the industry,” he says. “When I taught basic drilling a few years ago, I built the entire course around my 40 years of experience, and relayed practical realities of how every drilling concept actually worked in the real world.

“The students responded very positively to this approach and sought me out for numerous discussions about the industry and how they could best prepare for a career after college. Students want that industry connection and that has been a key part of the success preparation they receive at UW.”

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