Vicki Vaughan | The San Antonio Express-News
SAN ANTONIO — As Mexico ends its 75-year-old state monopoly and opens oil and gas production to foreign investment, the nation’s need for expertise — especially for petroleum engineers — will be great.
That’s prompted at least two Texas universities to establish relationships with universities in Mexico to train professionals and share knowledge.
Although talks are in preliminary stages, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University are discussing ways to set up faculty exchanges, hold workshops and seminars, and possibly set up degree programs.
While there’s energy industry expertise in Mexico, “there is a shortage of personnel,” said Christian Gómez Jr., director of energy at the Council of the Americas, a business organization. “There simply aren’t enough people in the energy sector who are qualified.”
Texas universities, he said, are perfectly positioned to fill in the gaps.
Universities such as Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey “have always had partnerships with universities in the United States on an academic level,” Gómez said.
Jorge Piñon, a 34-year oil industry veteran and now director of the Latin America and Caribbean energy program at UT-Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, said the university “has done research work and ventures” with Petróleos Mexicanos, Mexico’s state oil company, in the past.
“The only difference now is that there is a sense of urgency because of reform and because Mexico’s oil production is going down,” Piñon said.
That production has fallen from 3.4 million barrels a day in 2004 to 2.5 million a day this year, according to data from the Inter-American Development Bank.
That is less than the 2.7 million barrels a day that Texas was producing at the end of 2013.
In the past few months, UT-Austin officials “have been in touch with a number of Mexican academic institutions about building Mexico’s human capital and capacity needs — what they’re going to require in the next two years as energy reform moves forward,” Piñon said.
UT-Austin is in talks with several Mexican universities, including Tecnológico de Monterrey and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Piñon said. He’s headed to Mexico next month to help identify research subjects of mutual interest between UT-Austin and Mexican institutions.
As research institutions, UT-Austin and Texas A&M can offer Mexican students a chance to participate in research projects. UT-Austin “is doing quite a bit of research on shale and heavy oil recovery, which Mexico will need,” Piñon said.
Daniel Hill, head of Texas A&M’s petroleum engineering department, agreed, saying the technologies being used in the Eagle Ford Shale could be used in Mexico.
Hill met this summer with business leaders from Monterrey on behalf of a university there, La Nueva Universidad Regiomontana.
“They want to make it the go-to place for petroleum engineering in the country, at least among private universities,” he said. The university’s leaders have talked with Hill about creating a joint master’s degree.
While the talks are “in the discussion stage — nothing has been established,” Hill said a master’s degree could make sense. Such a program would be easier to establish than a bachelor’s degree because it typically requires eight to 10 courses, much fewer than the 20-plus that A&M offers in its bachelor’s program in petroleum engineering.
“With a smaller course inventory, and hence a smaller faculty, you can get a master’s program underway effectively,” Hill said.
Gómez of the Council of the Americas said Mexico needs to invest in higher education to fill the positions that will open in the energy sector.
That could start with earlier training in English, Hill said. Mexican students in petroleum engineering at A&M often arrive with poor English-speaking skills. By contrast, he said, students from Spanish-speaking countries in South America typically show greater fluency.
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