May 3, 2018

Some of Canada's brightest graduate students energize campus

Select group participating this week in unique learning experience hosted by Faculty of Science

Some of Canada’s brightest graduate students are on campus to participate in a unique, energy-focused learning experience that prepares them to be science and engineering leaders and policy makers.

Twenty-eight students from five universities, including the University of Calgary, are getting real-world multidisciplinary education and training at the first Annual Innovation Program, hosted by the Faculty of Science.

The week-long event is a highlight of ReDeveLoP, a graduate student training program within UCalgary’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) initiative.

“We’re trying to push these students outside the comfort zone, while broadening and enriching their academic experience,” says Dave Eaton, professor in the Department of Geoscience and chair of CREATE-ReDeveLoP (Responsible Development of Low-Permeability Hydrocarbon Resources).

“Ultimately, the goal is to prepare this cohort of highly qualified personnel to be the drivers of innovation, ready to handle the increasingly challenging environment faced by the oil and gas industry in Canada,” Eaton says.

Twelve PhD students and 16 working on their master’s degrees are taking part, encompassing the disciplines of geoscience, engineering, public policy and economics.

“This program is an unprecedented collaboration between industry, government, academia and Indigenous communities,” says Celia Kennedy, research coordinator in the Department of Geoscience and project manager of ReDeveLoP.

Program designed with stakeholders

ReDeveLoP, in its first year of a six-year program, was established with a $1.6-million contribution from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s CREATE initiative.

Program organizers worked with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories, Indian Resource Council of Canada, National Energy Board and other stakeholders to design and deliver the program.

The 28 grad students were formed into multidisciplinary teams, each tackling a timely and topical challenge faced by Canada’s oil and gas industry. The six challenges are:

  • hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," used to extract unconventional or so-called "tight" gas and oil;
  • induced seismicity (minor earthquakes, sometimes due to fracking operations);
  • fugitive gas emissions (such as methane, a potent greenhouse gas);
  • pipeline versus rail transport of oil;
  • liquefied natural gas supply to remote communities; and
  • modern development and "orphaned" oil and gas wells (wells that haven’t been properly decommissioned, often to due bankruptcy of the operating company).

“The program is structured so the students learn leadership, education, project management, communications and other skillsets they’re not typically exposed to in their academic disciplines,” Kennedy says.

For example, she says, “In order to collect their research, the students had to reach out to industry and Indigenous community representatives.”

Event judges included Mike Johnson, technical lead on the National Energy Board, Melanie Popp, geoLOGIC Systems and director of the Canadian Society For Unconventional Resources and Jérôme Marty, director pf the Council of Canadian Academies.

"Dragon's Den" event judges Mike Johnson (Technical Lead, National Energy Board), Melanie Popp (geoLOGIC Systems and Director, Canadian Society For Unconventional Resources) and Jérôme Marty (Director, Council of Canadian Academies), seated, are pictured with ReDeveLoP Annual Innovation Conference participants.

Judges Mike Johnson, Melanie Popp and Jérôme Marty, seated, are pictured with participants.

Jennifer Winter, University of Calgary

UCalgary grad students keen to participate

All the students are pursuing graduate studies at the universities collaborating on the ReDeveLoP program. Along with UCalgary, they are: University of Alberta, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and Western University.

“I’m really looking forward to being able to discuss what I’m researching and what I’m passionate about with other smart people who may have conflicting ideas,” says Scott McKean, who’s investigating induced seismicity for his PhD in geoscience-engineering at UCalgary.

“These kinds of experiences are why you go to grad school,” he adds. “It’s about trying to open your brain up to be innovative and think about doing research that’s really exciting for the world.”

Jade McLean, who’s working on her Master’s in energy policy in the School of Public Policy at UCalgary, is the only policy student on a team with engineering and geoscience students tackling the contentious pipeline-versus-rail topic.

“It has given me different perspectives that I would have never learned otherwise,” says McLean, who plans to work in the energy industry. “Having this experience has been very valuable, and I think potential employers would value it as well.”

‘Dragon’s Den’ competition a highlight

Earlier this week,  each team got 15 minutes – including a 90-second video – to present their results in a ‘Dragon’s Den’-like competition judged by three experts from industry and government.

The teams also had to produce both a technical paper and a policy paper about their respective challenges, as well as a collaborative Wikipedia page.

Each student in the top team will receive $1,000 toward attending a conference of his or her choice in the coming year.

Other activities scheduled for the week include a tour of the Containment and Monitoring Institute’s Field Research Station near Brooks, a geological field trip to Kananaskis Country, workshops, talks and a networking dinner.

Seven of the 12 faculty from the five universities on the ReDeveLoP team are from UCalgary. Along with Eaton, they are: geoscientists Bernhard Mayer and Christopher Clarkson in the Faculty of Science; Shengnan (Nancy) Chen and Jeffrey Priest in the Schulich School of Engineering; Jennifer Winter in The School of Public Policy and Department of Economics; and Thomas O’Neill in the Department of Psychology.

The ReDeveLoP program fits with UCalgary’s Strategic Research Plan, whose six main themes include “Energy Innovations for Today and Tomorrow.”

ReDeveLoP also dovetails with the Faculty of Science’s strategic plan, “Curiosity Sparks Discovery,” and its priorities to develop and support “champions of science,” create authentic learning experiences, be part of the community, foster innovations, and advance solutions to “Grand Challenges” – including “Energy in Transition.”

BACKGROUND: The University of Calgary’s successful application to the federal CREATE initiative to establish the ReDeveLoP program was sparked by seed funding, provided by the Office of Vice-President (Research), for multidisciplinary research on hydraulic fracturing. This research focus is part of the university’s Canada First Research Excellence Fund-Global Research Initiative in Sustainable Low Carbon Unconventional Resources.