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Educating the next generation of petroleum professionals

Steve Benson

Steve Benson

North Dakota now is the country’s fourth-largest petroleum-producing state.  Output from the state’s oil reservoirs, buried 5,000 to 10,000 feet down in the Williston Basin, has increased close to threefold — up 276 percent — since 2008.

“It’s really amazing,” said Steve Benson, professor of chemical engineering and director of the brand new UND petroleum engineering degree program.

“Our petroleum engineering degree is all about educating the next generation of experts in this field,” said Benson, a Twin Valley, Minn., native who spent 25 years as a senior research manager at the world-class UND Energy & Environmental Research Center.

Benson said the new degree program is a timely and practical addition to UND’s already significant catalog of energy, environment and related degrees, including the nation’s first master’s degree in sustainable energy engineering.

The petroleum engineering degree — together with UND’s other energy and environment studies options and extensive geology and geological engineering program — aims to prepare experts to deal with the world’s two major energy challenges: meeting future energy demands and doing that without creating more carbon emissions.

“I’m a fuel scientist and that’s the expertise I bring to this new program,” said Benson, who pioneered novel ways to detect mercury and other metals in the exhaust streams from coal-burning power plants.

“We will help our students look at fuel resources and come up with ways to clean them up, refine them, and then determine if you’re going to combust them or gasify them or turn them into other things,” Benson said.  “Our students will learn how to use fuels efficiently and minimize their impact on the environment.”

“One of the visions we have in this and other engineering and energy-related degree programs is to utilize the

UND energy infrastructure, such as the steam distribution system and the electrical distribution system, as a platform for education and research,” Benson said.  “Also, you have the emissions that come from the steam plant, the flue gases, etc.  We would look at better ways to control emissions and test different technologies.

“We already have five students signed up as majors, and several more signed up to change their majors, plus freshmen coming next year who have expressed an interest.”

Juan Pedraza | Staff Writer