Petroleum Engineering program graduates first four students for growing field in the oil industry


David L. Dodds

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Petroleum Engineering program graduates first four students for growing field in the oil industry

They know they're trailblazers, and now they're ready to make a difference.

The first four graduates, Joel Brown, Watford City, N.D.; Jake Fladeland, Stanley, N.D.; Tyson Page, Bottineau, N.D., and Kyle Wilson, Lancaster, Minn.; from the University of North Dakota's Petroleum Engineering program, will walk across the stage at general commencement Saturday, May 11.

It's a major milestone for UND and for a state where petroleum is a vital and fast-growing industry.

"We're very proud of these young people: they worked hard and overcame all the challenges of being the first in our new program," said Steve Benson, professor of engineering and chair of the Department of Petroleum Engineering, part of the College of Engineering and Mines. "Since these four students started three years ago, the program has grown to 130 undergrads enrolled this year – those first four blazed the trail."

While the program is new, the first four graduates have already signed job contracts or have good offers on the table, Benson said. The starting compensation for engineering jobs with the major drillers is $90,000–$110,000, and $70,000–$90,000 for engineering jobs with service companies.

"These guys have been taking heavy course loads–21 units per semester, plus working in the oil industry summers and preparing their senior projects to get through this program," said Benson. "Initially, when we got this degree program going, we planned to graduate our first class next year, but these students were motivated and ready, and eager to get to work, so we accelerated the program. They rose to the occasion by taking significant academic loads."

In their own words, here are UND's petroleum engineering degree program pioneers:

Joel Brown, Watford City, N.D. – I'm a third-generation oil(person). My grandfather, Alfred, grew up around Watford City, got into the oilfields in 1951, worked on drilling rigs for 20 years, then launched Northern States Fishing Tool. That's a key service provider – a fishing tool is sent down a hole to retrieve anything that gets dropped down the well. Then my dad, Gary, took over the business, with my grandfather continuing to work for the company.

I worked for them all through high school in the fishing business, mostly in shop cleaning equipment or running tools to and from locations, doing stuff that no one else wanted to do. In my sophomore year at college, majoring in physics at Taylor College in Indiana, I heard they were starting a petroleum engineering program at UND. I jumped at the chance. Every summer in college, I tried different jobs with different companies to broaden my experience, including roughnecking for Union Drilling.

"Roughneck" is slang term for the hard labor jobs on an oil rig.

I've interviewed with several companies. I think I'm going to accept an offer with a company outside North Dakota to get more work experience before moving back to work in the family business.

Jake Fladeland, Stanley, N.D. – Like Joel, I'm also a third generation oil(person). My grandpa Jack "broke out" into the oilfield in 1953 when he was 16 years old, my dad, Lannie, did it at 17.

My grandpa worked winters in the oilfields for 38 years, and he farmed the rest of the year near New Town. My dad worked on the farm but went to the oilfields right out of high school; he was a driller by 21, a tool pusher at 25 and was promoted to the office at 34. He's been a vice president for drilling companies for 12 years, the last nine for Patterson Drilling. There were pictures of me in a hard hat at my dad's tool-pusher shack when I was two.

I found out about the UND petroleum engineering degree program when I was majoring in geology a couple of years ago. I've got a job offer from Cathedral Energy Services, a directional drilling company.

Tyson Page, Bottineau N.D. – I grew up around farming and a family-owned manufacturing company, Quantum Industries in Bottineau. I worked summers all through high school on the shop floor. I also grew up around airplanes, and I have my pilot's license, too. My grandfather, Owen, farmed and ran an aerial spray business.

I helped around the farm, and at 17, I went to work in the oilfield about 20 miles from Bottineau, near Westhope, N.D.

My mom got an aviation degree at UND, and my dad got a UND degree in industrial management. My older brother, Preston, is a landman for a company in Bismarck – he negotiates with landowners for buying and selling mineral rights leases. My sister, who also has her pilot's license, is a freshman in the UND petroleum engineering program.

I've signed a contract with Marathon Oil as a production engineer.

Kyle Wilson, Lancaster, Minn. – I served in the Middle East with the Marine Corps after high school.

After my four years were up, I attended Northland Community & Technical College and transferred into engineering at UND. I learned about the petroleum engineering program shortly after coming to UND and signed up right away. I knew it was a good time to get into this industry, with all the folks getting ready to retire. I've signed a job contract with Murex Petroleum Corp., an independent operator based in Houston, with most of its operations up here. Since it's a relatively small company, I'll be a jack-of-all engineering trades, such as drilling, production and reservoir work. It's a good time to be getting in right now.

All four of us we were kind of born at the right time because the petroleum engineering industry stopped hiring 25 to 30 years ago, so the middle generation is missing. Now all the older folks are retiring so if you perform well, you'll get promoted fast.

Juan Miguel Pedraza

University and Public Affairs writer

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