Originally published July 14, 2016
By Lisa Y. Garibay and Lauren Macias-Cervantes
The Imperial Barrel Award (IBA) team from The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Geological Sciences brought home a first place win in the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Worldwide Imperial Barrel Competition in Calgary, Canada. It was a first for the University and was accompanied by a $20,000 prize.
The global contest included 143 universities from 39 countries, with UTEP winning over the University of Pennsylvania and the Colorado School of Mines in second and third place, respectively.
“This win is a testament to the wonderful UTEP students who, year after year, put in the long hours and frustrations of putting together a major research project and presentation in eight weeks,” said Rip Langford, Ph.D., professor in UTEP’s Department of Geological Sciences.
Langford explained that the project is completely student driven. Faculty in the department provide advice and technical support.
“It’s a testament to the quality of our students that they place so highly every year,” Langford said.
For the annual worldwide competition, university teams analyze a dataset of geology, geophysics, land, production infrastructure and other relevant materials to determine whether a location is feasible for oil exploration. They work with the data for eight weeks prior to their local competition. Each team delivers their results in a 25-minute presentation to a panel of industry experts.
The intense preparation time left team members very little time to rest, but they say the long lab hours were well worth it.
“During the last few months, I have learned marketable exploration skills and learned to be self-organized,” explained Eric Bergersen, a master’s student in geological sciences and the team leader. “Most of all, I learned to reach out and listen carefully to advice from whomever was willing to share their thoughts with me – from my teammates to our faculty adviser and our industry mentors, as well as geologists, engineers and recruiters in the petroleum industry, but also members of my family.”
During the competition, students have the opportunity to use state-of-the-art technology on a real set of data, impress potential employers in the audience, and win cash awards for their school. The judges select the winning team on the basis of the technical quality, clarity and originality of their presentation.
Teams from UTEP have been competing since 2007 and Langford has served as a mentor since the beginning.
“This is the most amazing educational tool a professor can imagine,” Langford said. “Our students learn an entire semester’s worth of material from at least three classes in the space of a compressed, eight-week competition.”
Team members Andy Anderson, Andre Llanos and Alan Vennemann returned to UTEP after the AAPG Annual Convention, while team members Bergersen and Patrick Rea returned to their internships with the Apache Corporation and NASA, respectively.
“Being part of the IBA competition is something I recommend to anyone with interest in the petroleum industry or research,” Bergersen said. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience offering amazing opportunities, from learning applicable skills, to interacting with great other IBA teams, to networking with experts from the petroleum industry.”
The team earned first place in regionals (and a $1,500 check) earlier this year. That Southwest Section contest included seven universities.
A ceremony to celebrate the team’s global win took place June 29 at UTEP’s Geology Reading Room. UTEP President Diana Natalicio and College of Science Dean Robert Kirken, Ph.D., were in attendance to congratulate the winners.