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UW Cuts Ribbon on New Drilling Simulation Lab

October 1, 2014
high-tech control panels
The University of Wyoming’s WPX Drilling Simulator Teaching Laboratory exposes students and industry personnel to realistic simulations of normal and extra-normal drilling and well-control operations. (UW Photo)

The University of Wyoming and WPX Energy cut the ribbon today (Wednesday) on a new drilling simulator teaching laboratory that lets students experience what it’s like to drill an oil well -- giving them the skills they need to operate successfully and safely on today’s fast-paced oil and gas rigs.

Funded with a $1 million gift from WPX Energy that was matched by the state, the 1,296-square-foot WPX Drilling Simulator Teaching Lab is located on the second floor of the UW Energy Innovation Center. It introduces students and industry personnel to realistic real-time simulations of normal and extra-normal drilling and well-control operations. It also expands UW College of Engineering and Applied Science course offerings and eventually will offer professional well control certifications for drillers.

“WPX Energy is proud to support the University of Wyoming and the installation of the new drilling simulator,” says Jerry Barnes, WPX Energy vice president of land and the company’s former vice president of the Powder River Basin. “This new technology will enhance the petroleum engineering program and raises the national profile of UW’s engineering program.”

Industry partner WPX Energy is a Tulsa, Okla.-based energy company specializing in the production of natural gas, natural gas liquids and oil with operations and interests in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania, as well as Argentina and Colombia.

The lab includes the $2 million drilling simulator with a classic console station and a raised rig floor and can be separated with a partition to include a classroom and a laboratory. The UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering also has purchased the license to operate 20 drilling simulation computer stations in the adjoining classroom.

“The WPX Drilling Simulator is another great example of how the university and its School of Energy Resources is partnering with energy companies for the benefit of our students and the citizens of Wyoming,” says UW President Dick McGinity. “The WPX lab represents the emphasis that UW places on not only a rigorous education but a practical one -- students taking the theory they learn in the classroom and applying it in real-world situations, better preparing them for future success.”

Although other U.S. universities also have full-sized rig floor simulators with 3-D graphics, UW will be the first in the nation to operate a brand-new DrillSIM-5000 from the company Drilling Systems (UK) Limited, which provides drilling simulator systems to the oil and gas industry and educational institutions around the world.

The DrillSIM-5000 is a full-scale drilling and well-control operations simulator with sound effects and realistic computer-generated graphics. The unit contains a drilling controls console, drilling gauges console, surface blowout preventer control console, remote choke-control console, full-sized standpipe manifold, and graphics, student and instructor stations.

“The modern engineering education must use the latest technologies,” says David Bagley, head of the UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “The WPX Drilling Simulator Laboratory is a terrific addition to UW's petroleum engineering facilities and allows us to provide students the state-of-the-art education they deserve and that industry needs. A drilling simulator allows students to learn in a completely safe and realistic environment so that they won't make mistakes in the field. We are delighted to accept this outstanding gift from WPX Energy and look forward to using it to educate both UW and industry students.”

Currently, the lab offers classes that focus on drilling fluids, which are a vital part of drilling operations to cool the drill bit and to transport the drill cuttings out of the well. The WPX drilling simulator allows students to design the drilling fluid properties (density, viscosity and components) to remove rock chips during drilling in the Basic Drilling course and the Drilling Fluids Laboratory course. In the Drilling Fluids lab, students prepare the drilling fluids, measure their properties and conduct computer simulations. Future courses will include Advanced Drilling Engineering and Well Control.

Well drilling is an expensive endeavor. Controlling a well and drilling properly are key, as well costs range from $10 million to $30 million onshore and up to $150 million to $200 million for an offshore deep-water well. A well can be unsuccessful if it is drilled into a dry hole -- an area where there is no oil or gas.

Safety, both human and environmental, is the first concern. The simulator allows students to see what may go wrong in a drilling operation and well design, allowing them to be prepared to “expect the unexpected.”

In addition to expanding course opportunities for students, the new laboratory eventually will offer professional well control certification for industry onshore drillers and rig crews. The driller who actually runs the rig does not require a certification, but the drilling supervisor and the drilling contractor’s supervisor do require a well control certification. State-level requirements may vary, but the majority of companies that drill onshore require critical staff to hold a valid well control certification that includes a 30 percent simulator training time.

“The state-of-the-art drilling simulator lab in the Energy Innovation Center plays an important role in advancing UW’s energy agenda,” says UW Foundation President Ben Blalock. “It’s yet another example of furthering students’ practical knowledge in pursuit of careers in the energy industry. UW takes greatest pride in our partnership with WPX Energy.”

The WPX Drilling Simulator Teaching Laboratory is another step in the efforts to raise the profile of UW’s engineering and energy programs, propelling it into the ranks of premier schools such as the Colorado School of Mines and Texas A&M University, which both have similar laboratories.

The Tier-1 Engineering Initiative is led by the Wyoming governor, Wyoming legislators, industry leaders and UW through the Wyoming Governor’s Energy, Engineering, STEM Integration Task Force. Gov. Matt Mead’s charge letter stated: “It is only through a well-articulated, understandable strategy that we will be able to fulfill the challenge of becoming a Tier-1 academic and research institution in areas of excellence for Wyoming.”

The ribbon cutting was followed by a demonstration of the simulator. Speakers included Barnes, McGinity, Bagley, Blalock and former Gov. Dave Freudenthal. Those cutting the ribbon were WPX representatives Barnes; Director of Community Affairs and Administration Nikki Turner; Director of Talent Acquisitions and Leadership Angela Kouplen; and Talent Programs Administrator Adriana Scott; McGinity; UW Trustee Jeff Marsh; College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Al Rodi; and Freudenthal.

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