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Captcha
11-09-2010, 07:06 AM
I have a character who's the son of a family that is making lots of money in the Alberta tar sands. The dad's a CEO of one of the oil companies, or something like that. I want the son to go to school in some field of engineering with the plan that he'll join the family company, so I'm thinking chemical engineering? But then I want the son to rebel, a bit. I want him to use the chemical engineering education not to totally defy the family (like, I don't want him to do science that proves that the tar sands are killing the world), but to show that he's got his own values and he's going to do what he thinks is right. So I'm thinking some form of alternative energy work.

Can anyone help me:

A) confirm that chemical engineering makes sense, for someone who's planning to work for a Canadian oil company, or, in the alternative, suggest a different field;

B) suggest a good area for his post-independence to work to take place. Like, how would one most effectively use a degree in chemical engineering to promote environmentally-friendly energy;

and, C) a bit more obscure, but - during his little coming-of-age crisis, my character spends a bit of time working as a labourer in a horse barn. Upon discovery, I'd like him to jokingly claim that he was doing some sort of research, like - "I was investigating the methane production capacity of horses. Everyone thinks cows and pigs for methane, but, you know - horses shit, too." Would that even make sense? Or is there something else that springs to mind that he could jokingly claim to have been doing?

Thanks for any help. A focus on A) and B) is fine, but any ideas for C) would be great, too!

jennontheisland
11-09-2010, 07:28 AM
You can actually specialize in oil and gas (O&G) engineering.

You can also do environmental engineering with a focus on the O&G industry. I did a tech diploma in that. You don't learn a lot about upstream (the drilling and exploration) or downstream (manufacture and processing) but you do work in and around the industry. Designing tailings ponds for example. Or remediating contaminated sites (what I did), or doing pre- and post- assessments.

Environmental engineers of this sort would work for O&G companies, a few guys in my class came from oil families, or they could work for environmental or engineering consulting companies, like I did.

A friend of mine did a chemical engineering tech diploma at another school and worked for Shell Canada in their R&D. She was a lab rat, part time in the city, part time up in Fort Mac.

My aunt has a PhD in envi sci, built on geology with a focus on oil and gas. She was looking at dealing with crystalization that happens during drilling. Apparently there are bacteria underground that start building crystaline structures when they come in contact with the very saline drilling mud (oily mud used as a lubricant as they drill through rock). The crystals are not at all what anyone wants and they have to "frac" (fracture) the product before they can extract it... not overly clear on this part as it's upstream stuff...

C) makes sense, but is generally considered a little silly... But I think that may be what you were going for.

I'm back in school now and working on an environmental engineering degree, building on my tech one, but this time my focus is on poo. Wastewater management and infrastructure.

Kenn
11-09-2010, 04:34 PM
Chemical engineering sounds like it would be a good qualification for a job in tar sand extraction, but it is less obvious how it would fit in with an alternative energy source (other than restricting emisions from coal-fired power plants, etc.).

An alternative might be to consider him to be a mining engineer/ geophysicist and his subsequent interest to be in enhanced geothermal power (mind, there are suggestions that this can cause earthquakes!).

Yes, you'll get methane out of horses.

Captcha
11-10-2010, 05:48 AM
Excellent info, guys - thanks!

Maryn
11-10-2010, 06:07 PM
I can confirm that an education in chemical engineering qualifies a person for employment in the gas and oil industry. A friend with such a degree works for Mobil Oil. His work is in an office building, not at any sites where the oil fields are location, BTW. I've kind of lost touch with him or I'd hit him up with your other questions.

Maryn, helping only an eensy bit

Miguelito
11-11-2010, 04:38 AM
Chemical engineering is a near perfect fit for the tar sands: they have been building upgraders up there, which turn the bitumen (the tar) into synthetic crude oil, which is easier to refine than going straight from bitumen to gasoline. Chemical engineering is essential to the process because all it is is one big chemistry experiment.

LJD
11-12-2010, 06:13 AM
chem eng makes sense.
you could also consider geo eng. a bit more obscure, perhaps.
but then he could go do geothermal energy work!

I have a geo eng. degree. Many of my peers in geo eng. as well as geology went to Calgary to work for oil companies.

Captcha
11-12-2010, 06:47 AM
Okay, stupid question, but - geo? Is it geological engineering?

When I look at websites for engineering schools, it doesn't seem like one of the main fields - would it be part of one of the other departments? And/or do only certain schools offer it?

My character went to school in Canada - I'm hoping for the University of Alberta, or the University of Calgary but there's some flexibility on that. And I want him to have been accepted for his masters somewhere prestigious (right now I'm thinking MIT, but I can change that, too!) - I don't see geo engineering as an option at either Alberta school. Would it be offered somewhere else?

jennontheisland
11-12-2010, 06:49 AM
Geotechnical usually. As a specialization of Civil, and sometimes Environmental.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geotechnical_engineering

U of A has a petroleum engineering specialty offered under Civil.
http://www.civil.engineering.ualberta.ca/en/Undergraduate/MiningPetroleumEngineering.aspx

UBC has Geological Engineering
http://www.geoeng.ubc.ca/

You could also look into professional associations like APEGGA (http://www.apegga.org/), since the character would have to belong to one in order to work as a P.Eng.

LJD
11-12-2010, 07:01 AM
yeah, not every school offers it. I went to Queen's, this is our website: http://www.geol.queensu.ca/

I think Waterloo has it too. To be honest, I'm not sure what schools have it, but I know there are others. Not familiar with the Alberta schools. At U of T, you can do a geological engineering specialty through mineral engineering.

At Queen's, geological engineering was its own discipline. We also had specialties within it (geotechnical, geoenvironmental, exploration, geophysics) though I think they've gotten rid of those now.

It is, as I say, a little obscure.

jennontheisland
11-12-2010, 07:07 AM
I'm not sure I'd say Geotech is obscure, since it's in the name of almost every professional body that regulates engineering in Canada. ;)

I think it's more that the notion of engineering is so irrationally intimidating to people that they glaze over at the mere sound of the word, and don't even stop to consider that there are specializations.

Kenn
11-12-2010, 02:36 PM
I think the problem with being too detailed about the qualification is that it makes the employment area too specific. Studying geology, geochemistry, geophysics or even geological science leaves the door open; something that would be necessary if you were going to switch from oil extraction to alternative energy production.

Captcha
11-12-2010, 04:08 PM
It's a fine line, Kenn, because I'm trying to use the switch to show that he's freed himself from the pressures of his family - so it needs to be something that was pretty clearly a family-inspired field in the first place. Although I guess I can just make it clear that he wasn't interested in geology for its own sake, or something.

Maybe the question I should be asking is, aside from business, what is the perfect education for somebody who plans to work at a supervisory level in the tar sands?

Miguelito
11-12-2010, 07:05 PM
It's a fine line, Kenn, because I'm trying to use the switch to show that he's freed himself from the pressures of his family - so it needs to be something that was pretty clearly a family-inspired field in the first place. Although I guess I can just make it clear that he wasn't interested in geology for its own sake, or something.

Maybe the question I should be asking is, aside from business, what is the perfect education for somebody who plans to work at a supervisory level in the tar sands?

To move up the ladder, it really helps to have a Master's degree in your field. So, a Master's of Engineering or Master's of Science. I know many engineers who've gone back to get their Master's of Business Administration to round out their business background so they can eventually take more of a corporate role rather than just a technical one.

Kenn
11-12-2010, 07:29 PM
I suppose it depends on exactly what he is doing. The usual route in a scientific career is a more 'conventional' degree in the earth or natural sciences, followed by a Masters in a more specialised field. The titles of Masters degrees are usually more exotic. How about something like 'Mineral (or Geochemical) Exploration' ?