University of Calgary suspends admission for oil and gas engineering program

The University of Calgary has suspended admission for its oil and gas engineering bachelor program amidst a downturn in Canada’s energy sector and a transition towards a more renewable future.

In fact, enrollment for the program has hit an all-time low with only about 10 students registered over the course of the last two years.

Those existing students will still be able to complete their studies, but Prof. Arin Sen, head of the department of chemical and petroleum engineering said the university has no intention to abandon oil and gas studies.

“This wasn’t a decision that we made lightly and we certainly had a lot of engagement, but we had a lot of decline in the demand,” Sen said.

“That’s obviously something that we need to take into consideration and the other is that there's a changing energy landscape that we see here in Alberta, and even beyond Alberta you can see changes globally going on.”

Sen added that the goal is to now focus on how to better train students and give students further access to knowledge, especially in the world of digital technologies.

“We need to give students a chance to learn about what geothermal means, what hydrogen energy means,  wind and solar, and then package that together, so when students graduate from here, they are actually stronger and will be able to better perform once they go into whichever segment of the energy industry that they end up.”

The university has plans to allocate further resources to better support students wanting to work in the energy sector, including oil and gas.

NOT A SURPRISE

The news of a suspension does not come as a surprise for Nima Macci, a former chemical engineering student who was chair of the 2021 Alberta Student Energy Conference.

She says energy firms have already rebranded themselves to students over the years and many of her colleagues are noticing a shift in the energy landscape.

“Through the conference, what we saw was a lot of anxiety, kind of being associated with the idea of going back into oil and gas, or being pigeonholed into one career, especially in an industry that had kind of a precarious future,” Macci said.

“For the longest time we've seen oil and gas as the primary source of energy. Nowhere do I see oil and gas ever becoming obsolete in any form, but we do need to diversify and it's shifting the conversation to incorporate companies like clean tech firms, renewable energy sources as well which I think is a great opportunity.”

ENERGY TRANSITION LEADS TO GREATER OPPORTUNITY

Mitch Jacobsen graduated from the University of Calgary’s oil and gas engineering program in 2015, but has since made a drastic shift in his career plans.

He started out as a water strategist in the oil and gas sector, looking for creative ways to conserve water, but realized a new opportunity in the beverage industry.

“When I looked at packaging on beverages I wanted to find the most sustainable packaging, in terms of water usage fossil fuel usage carbon emissions, and that's really how we got into it.”

Jacobsen stepped away from his oil and gas career in January of 2020 and founded Rviita Energy Tea.

He says his background in oil and gas engineering prompted him to create juice products made out of linear low density polyethylene and an environmentally-friendly 100 per cent recyclable aluminum and plastic layer.

“I think the future of the oil and gas industry is really more moving towards those sustainable technologies,” Jacobsen said.

“We produce some of the cleanest oil and gas in the world so I hope this program at UofC comes back in the future because it creates so many new jobs and opportunities and it educates the next generation of engineers that need to take sustainability initiatives.”

Other students like Amanda Quinn, who is currently enrolled in the UofC energy engineering program agree that petroleum engineering is still a very useful degree that her colleagues should have the option to enrol in.

“To take away petroleum engineering means you're taking away the opportunity for people to get their master's in petroleum engineering and potentially their doctorate too,” Quinn said.

“We need the experts on petroleum engineering to be there to help us with the transition of it, because they might know the best way of how, how we attain oil, how we process it, and how we refine it more efficiently.”