SAN ANTONIO — Texas A&M-Kingsville researchers took a look in their own backyard and saw a need. To fill that need, they’ve launched the Eagle Ford Center for Research, Education and Outreach.
The idea is to promote sustainability in what rapidly has become one of the country’s major oil fields, looking at everything from the process of producing oil and gas to figuring out better ways to manage roads or monitor pipelines.
“I think there’s a need for us to get more involved,” said Jianhong-Jennifer Ren, interim associate dean of the college of engineering and an associate professor of environmental engineering.
The Eagle Ford Center is part of the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering, but taps faculty members from disciplines that include engineering, agriculture and arts and sciences.
Both graduate and undergraduate students already have gotten involved in research projects, Ren said.
The new center came together relatively quickly. After the engineering college started working on the idea in 2012, it was approved by the A&M System in August.
Six main areas of focus are oil and gas production enhancement, condensate refining process improvement, environmental analysis, transportation, public health monitoring and community development and planning.
The center held its first large event — a conference that focused on water management in the field — in Cotulla this fall.
The spring conference, also planned for Cotulla’s new convention center in early April, will focus on pipeline safety and first responders.
Kim Jones, professor and chairman of environmental engineering and director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment, said communities such as Cotulla and Pearsall are trying to think through how the up-and-down cycle of oil and gas will affect them.
“What do these small communities want to look like in 10 years when production falls off?” Jones asked. “Texas has an opportunity to try to plan better. How do you develop it wisely?”
Even though shale wells are expected to make oil and gas for decades, the production drops sharply in the first year or two. That means either a lot more drilling has to happen to replace production, or the amount of oil and gas coming from the field goes on a long decline.
To navigate the changes, communities will have to be nimble and consider industry impacts to schools, infrastructure and air quality.
In addition, Jones said, the mix of workers in the region will change over time, meaning that schools need to prep the workforce.
“You’ll have a production base, more professional people there,” Jones said. “They just won’t be drillers.”
Future topics for fall and spring conferences include public health, social impact, air quality, oil field waste and community development.
The Eagle Ford Center also is offering classes to people already working in the field. The first focused on supply, flowback and wastewater treatment associated with hydraulic fracturing.
The center is working with the San Antonio-based Howard Energy Partners, a pipeline and storage company, on a pipeline study. And it’s joined the South Texas Energy & Economic Roundtable, the industry group that includes the major operators in the region and partners such as the Port of Corpus Christi.
Ren said the center is working on a 10-year plan and wants to do everything from technical work to acting as a place where communities can come for help with things such as grant writing or navigating complex paperwork.
“We’d really like to see the center contributing in a different way, as a one-stop center for whoever needs it,” Ren said.
Twitter: @Jennifer_Hiller ___