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Petroleum Engineering gaining popularity at Curtin Sarawak

May 10, 2013 | Campus News

MIRI: One of the fastest-growing courses at Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak), Curtin University's largest international campus, is its Bachelor of Engineering (BEng.) in Petroleum Engineering. Though relatively new at Curtin Sarawak, having been introduced in 2011, it currently has an enrolment of over 60 students and the number is increasing with each new semester.

The highly-specialised 4-year course, which is equivalent to the one offered at Curtin's main campus in Perth, Western Australia, was developed in collaboration with global players like Chevron, Woodside, Shell, BHP Biliton and BP, which continue to support Curtin's petroleum engineering programme and provide graduates with employment opportunities during and beyond their studies.

At Curtin Sarawak, the course has been further refined to meet the technical needs of the Oil & Gas sector in Malaysia with the involvement of industry players like Petronas, Shell, Nippon Oil, Murphy Oil, Schlumberger and Talisman, which operate extensively in East Malaysia. Contrary to popular belief, all four years the course can be completed at Curtin Sarawak without having to transfer to the main campus at any stage.

Thirty years ago, the Malaysian Parliament passed the Petroleum Development Act (1974) which laid down the groundwork for the development of the Oil & Gas industry in the country. Since then, the industry has developed to become one of our most important economic sectors.

It is also an industry which has taken advantage of the most exciting engineering and technological advances, developing from mere production of crude for export to value-added downstream production of commodity and engineering plastics, petrochemicals and fertilizers.

The industry's current boom has presented local engineers numerous opportunities to contribute to the various facets of the industry, from front-end engineering design of oil production facilities to the design and construction of refineries and plants.

Though the number of students undergoing the programme at Curtin Sarawak and other institutions is on the increase, the demand from key industry players like Petronas, Exxon-Mobil, Shell and Murphy Oil far outstrips the supply of graduates.

“Despite these opportunities, many of the local engineering positions are still occupied by expatriates. This could be partly due to the fact that there are still relatively few institutions of higher learning offering degrees in petroleum engineering and other related disciplines, and a lack of awareness of career prospects in the industry,”  Professor Ir. Yudi Samyudia, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor of Curtin Sarawak.

Professor Samyudia highly recommends the BEng. (Petroleum Engineering) course at Curtin Sarawak to those seeking lucrative careers in both the national and international Oil & Gas industry. He said that, while the course is in many ways geared towards meeting Malaysia's needs, it maintains a global perspective and is applicable anywhere in the world.

“Career opportunities abound for petroleum engineering graduates who can pursue a range of professions in the industry, such as reservoir engineers, production or operations engineers, and drilling engineers, either on rigs or in an office environment,” he said.

Now, with news of discoveries of new potentially producing fields in Malaysia, there should be heightened interest in the oil and gas industry and hopefully interest in careers in the industry as well,” he added.

Furthermore, as the Petroleum Engineering course at Curtin Sarawak adopts the same course structure as that of Curtin's main campus in Australia, students are assured of the quality of the Petroleum Engineering curriculum delivered at Curtin Sarawak, including regular semester teaching visits of Curtin Bentley staff to Miri.

This was corroborated by the head of the Petroleum Engineering Department in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Curtin Bentley, Associate Professor Vamegh Rasouli, who expressed his commitment to ensuring the success of the Petroleum Engineering course at Curtin Sarawak.

“I have no doubt, that with our extensive experience in delivering the Petroleum Engineering course here in Perth, and our strong research record in different areas of petroleum engineering, we can help Curtin Sarawak deliver the best Petroleum Engineering course in Malaysia,” he said.

Acting Dean of Curtin Sarawak's School of Engineering and Science, Associate Professor Ir. Lau Hieng Ho, meanwhile, said Curtin Sarawak is strategically located at the right place to offer the course.

“Being located within the hub of the Oil & Gas industry in Sarawak offers distinct advantages to our petroleum engineering students. Due to the practical and applied nature of the course, and our strong links with the industry players, they have ample opportunity to develop practical skills and gain valuable work experience interacting with industry professionals,” said Associate Professor Lau.

In addition, he said, the course's teaching staff has extensive professional experience in the field and offer practical relevancy to student learning. Industry specialists also provide regular guest lectures, ensuring content is up-to-date with the latest developments, and lectures are often accompanied by lab work and field trips.

The BEng. (Petroleum Engineering), as with all of Curtin's qualifications, is awarded under the Australian Qualifications Framework, and is thus Australian government-accredited and Australia-wide recognised.

Furthermore, graduates from the course fulfill the stage one competencies required by Engineers Australia (EAust) as the pathway to chartered-engineer status (CPEng).

The course covers the theory and application of the various disciplines required to evaluate, develop and exploit oil and gas reserves. The first year provides a background of general engineering, and in the second year, issues involving fluid flow through reservoirs are examined.

Students will also learn about basic geology and where petroleum engineering fits. Concepts in chemical engineering and thermodynamics will be covered to ensure understanding of the issues of fluid movement as a result of changes in reservoir pressure, temperature and flow of different liquids.

Fluid dynamics and understanding the oil and gas reservoir are examined on a micro and macro scale. Crude oil processing and transport, drilling and well engineering are studied, along with the methods used to better image the reservoirs in 3D while determining optimum plans to extract the liquids.

In the final year of study, economics, risk and project management topics introduce students to global economic trends and ways of extracting more oil and gas for the good of the community, while assisting company profit margins.

To complement the theoretical and on-campus practical learning, students will undertake at least 12 weeks of industrial experience and complete a Senior First Aid Certificate course to ensure they are job-ready on graduation.

On the development of the Petroleum Engineering and other related courses at Curtin Sarawak, Associate Professor Chua Han Bing, Head of the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department, said the university is always looking for areas where it can play a role in enhancing and complementing the local Oil & Gas industry.

“As the Oil & Gas industry is multi-disciplinary in nature, there is considerable scope for introducing more related courses. As it is, we have courses in a wide range of engineering and science disciplines, including chemical, civil and construction, electrical power, electronic and communication and mechanical, as well as applied geology, computer systems and networking, and engineering management,” he added.

He cited the example of the oil and gas construction industry, which is always on the lookout for project management and planning engineers up to the challenge of working within the Oil & Gas business environment.

“The growth of the Malaysian Oil & Gas industry has spawned a whole support industry providing services and products to operators, has encouraged the growth of Malaysian-owned businesses, and opened up opportunities to expand outside national borders,” he added.

Curtin Sarawak's School of Engineering and Science, which currently has over 1,600 students, aspires to be internationally recognised as a leader in engineering and science education and research, and the innovative application of engineering technology.

The courses it offers are recognised or accredited by professional bodies such as the Engineering Accreditation Council (EAC), Malaysia; Engineers Australia (EAust); Institution of Chemical Engineers UK (iChemE); Australian Computer Society; Australian Society of Exploration Geophysicists; Society of Exploration Geophysicists (USA); European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, and Geological Society of Australia.

Since its establishment in 1999, Curtin Sarawak has become one of the leading universities in Malaysia. In addition to being granted self-accreditation status by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), it has achieved Tier Five or 'Excellent' ratings in the MQA's SETARA and D-SETARA rating systems, the latter for its engineering programmes.

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