PETEX author Dr. Paul Bommer on teaching and the future of the oil and gas industry
6/28/2010Dr. Paul Bommer followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather when he went into the oil business. With his brother Peter, he formed Bommer Engineering Company in 1979, an oil and gas consulting company specializing in drilling and production operations and oil and gas appraisals. In 2004, after 25 years of work in the field, Dr. Bommer changed direction in his career by accepting a teaching position at his alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin.
Currently, he is a senior lecturer in the university’s Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering. Perhaps because of his own years of hands-on experience, Dr. Bommer gets the most satisfaction from teaching courses in drilling, production, facilities and artificial lift, where he relates classroom learning to real-life situations. He also teaches an engineering capstone course, which requires students to develop a small oil and gas field from prospect to production.
Dr. Bommer is also a major contributor to CIE’sPetroleum Extension Service (PETEX). He has written for several PETEX publications, including "The Primer of Oilwell Drilling, 7th Edition," which he authored; the production chapter of the forthcoming edition of "Fundamentals of Petroleum;" and "The Beam Lift Handbook," which is currently in development with his colleague at the university, Dr. Tony Podio. He is also involved in developing "Arithmetic for Rig Personnel," in which Dr. Bommer enlists his students to assist with verifying the accuracy of the equations contained in the book.
We asked Dr. Bommer about his teaching experiences and his thoughts on the BP oil spill.
What made you want to become a teacher and why did you return to the university?
“I came back to the university because an opportunity arose in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering for someone with my specialty. I was only too happy to come back to my alma mater. My interest in teaching started when I was back in graduate school. During one semester, I had an opportunity to teach Production Engineering almost by myself. I had been a teacher’s assistant for a while, being just what the title suggests—an assistant. But for Production Engineering, the professor was largely absent and he turned it over to me. I got the ‘bug’ then.”
What is it about teaching that you enjoy the most?
"The teacher that really loves teaching and is good at it is also something of a performer. You have to enjoy being in front of a crowd—and I do. But equally important is that in order to teach something and teach it well you have to understand it completely. I greatly enjoy continuing my own education by continuing to explore my subjects so I can pass on what I know and also what I learn."
How do you think the current BP oil spill will affect teaching in the oil and gas industry?
"I think it is a total game-changer. It’s going to change everything about how oil and gas is taught, perceived, drilled, etc. One thing I’m going to start stressing in my classes is the professional engineer’s creed. It says: “The professional engineer has a duty to protect public welfare.” That implies that the primary duty is to protect the public. What’s going on with BP is a poster child for what happens when that conversation slips."
What do you think will be the long-term effects in the industry of this spill?
"In the long-term, the effects of the spill will be a total review of how wells are drilled – both on- and off-shore. I also think it will refocus the public’s attention to how much this commodity is used in our country every day and where it comes from."
What would be your advice to a PETEX student embarking on a career in the oil and gas industry?
"I would tell any student in the oil and gas industry that they have a great opportunity to enter the biggest industry in the world. They also have the opportunity to better mankind by providing energy—because we need it—in a safe, economical way."