By Kingsley Amakiri
Water is one of the world's most critical natural resources, but too many people take it for granted, raising awareness of its importance — and complexities — is too often left out of public discourse. My recent visit to a few engineering colleges as a STEM ambassador made me realize that many more engineering programs are offered today than when I went to school.
I was startled to hear that there are now dozens of different areas outside the core schools of electrical, mechanical, civil, and chemical engineering. Some colleges provide interdisciplinary degrees such as "systems engineering," while others provide specialty programmes such as architectural, manufacturing, and even space flight engineering. It's great that colleges are realizing the need for practical degrees that will actually assist graduates join their specialized professions of interest; nevertheless, there's still more to be done.
Despite being critical to the development of all energy resources, water management has received little attention from academics.
There are now very few such programmes available (the only one I'm aware of for produced water is provided by Oklahoma State University), but I'm hopeful that this article will push more colleges to take on the task. I think the moment has arrived, with the growth of hydraulic fracturing and the establishment of a water midstream business.
Oilfield produced water managers have long lamented the lack of university programs aimed at preparing people for the challenges of produced water management. Most experts in the industry especially produced water managers have generally learned their lessons the hard way — from first-hand experience in the field.
Unfortunately, many of the lessons learned have come from mistakes made along the way. Adding to the challenges in this field is the volatility of the energy sector, as we lose experienced people with each crash, many of whom do not return after the industry recovers. This boom-and-bust cycle has resulted in inefficient knowledge transfer.
Young engineering/technical students would benefit greatly from learning about the industrial water lifecycle, treatment and disposal choices, and so on via a degree programme. They would be able to draw on the experiences of others rather than having to learn all of the difficult lessons for themselves, and they may be more likely to stay in the profession if they have dedicated their studies to that particular subject.
Currently, most produced water knowledge is locked away in the minds of old-timers or in an industry organization repository such as the Produced Water Society (PWS), which is building an online repository. The emergence of extremely high-quality online teaching systems, of which we may take advantage, is one silver lining of the COVID-19 nightmare. I am certain that many in PWS, including myself, would be delighted to assist in the teaching of produced water management courses, since properly training students would tremendously benefit our sector.
Kingsley Amakiri is a trained Chemical Engineer with a PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Huddersfield. He serves as a consultant for Wateren Service Limited. Kingsley successfully collaborates with other universities and industries, offering sustainable Water treatment solutions. He has gained several awards, including the IEE future star of nanotechnology award in 2020. He also uses innovative teaching approaches to deliver modules aligned with his research interests to students in various degree courses. Kingsley is a Member of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and the Royal Society of Chemistry.