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UW Graduate Students Participate in International Competition

April 27, 2017
people around a table with strips of paper on it
UW’s Imperial Barrel Award competition team works together interpreting drilled well information. From left are Kara Hoppes, Nathaniel Applegate, Sara Burrell, Matt Edgin and Mingliang Liu. (Nathaniel Applegate Photo)

A team of five students from the University of Wyoming’s Department of Geology and Geophysics competed for the prestigious Imperial Barrel Award (IBA), a rigorous hydrocarbon exploration competition sponsored by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG).

This year’s Rocky Mountain Section competition included UW and nine other colleges and universities from nearby states. Each was given the following geophysical information from the Bristol Bay Basin in Alaska, just north of the Alaskan Peninsula: geophysical measurements from 17 drilled wells; seismic surveys; gravity surveys; and magnetic surveys.

After receiving the data set in January, UW team members worked together for eight weeks to generate drill well sites they believed could produce hydrocarbons and should be further explored. The many tasks in their workflow were accomplished using state-of-the-art petroleum industry software and by combining elements from each team member’s geologic expertise and knowledge.

Students must learn to interpret their data set using unfamiliar, complicated software with the same concepts and workflow as if employed in the petroleum industry. Their findings and recommendations were presented to a panel of industry professionals in Denver March 4. Presentations were limited to 25 minutes. Assistant Professor Brandon McElroy acted as the team’s faculty adviser. The team also had limited access to several industry experts.

The UW IBA team was quite diverse this year, consisting of: Nathaniel Applegate, geochemistry graduate student from Scottsbluff, Neb.; Sara Burrell, undergraduate student from Sheridan; Matt Edgin, geochemistry graduate student from Upper Arlington, Ohio; Kara Hoppes, sedimentology graduate student from Baldwin, Md.; and Mingliang Liu, geophysics graduate student from China.

“Competing in the IBA was a really great experience,” says Applegate, the team leader. “We were able to work with a real data set, use industry software and get a really good feel of what it is like working for industry and exploring for hydrocarbons.”

This was the 12th year of the IBA competition. Colleges and universities from 12 regions around the world compete with other regional winners at the annual AAPG convention. Since its inception, IBA competition has involved 61 countries, 455 universities and 3,862 students.

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