Cockrell School of Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin

Omar Varela

Dr. Omar Varela’s beginnings in the oil industry started in the Athens of South America. He attended America University in Bogota, Colombia, graduating with honors in 1996 with a Bachelors of Engineering in Petroleum Engineering. When taking his first reservoir engineering class, his professor mentioned that geology was important to understand the fluid flow of hydrocarbons in the reservoir. The following semester he started a BS in Geology at the National University of Colombia and graduated in 1997. During the thesis year of his engineering degree, he joined a multi-national oil company as reservoir engineer where he worked for two years. Motivated by his thesis advisor, he applied to UT Austin and received a full scholarship to pursue a MSPE. He enjoyed the academic and research experience so much that the initial two-year plan became almost a six-year plan when he decided to pursue his PhD with Professors Carlos Torres-Verdin and Larry Lake. His academic adventure took him on a journey into reservoir engineering, flow in porous media, optimization, and geophysics, on which topics Varela has several publications. He held multiple summer jobs in the oil and gas industry while pursuing his degrees. These jobs supported one of his interests: traveling to nature destinations like the Amazon or Norwegian Fjords.

As a graduate student, Varela held numerous academic and research based scholarships including coveted UT Austin Presidential Fellowships in two occasions. His MS thesis was part of Professor Lake’s SPE Distinguished Lecture Series around the world on “Using simulation models to predict uncertainty”. Omar’s pioneering PhD work on joint inversion algorithms for the static and dynamic characterization of hydrocarbon reservoirs led him to receive various awards including a Student Grant from the European Association of Geoscientist and Engineers (EAGE) and the 2003 Best Paper Award from the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG). He was also recognized with the Dan P. Lowenthal Award for original research contributions. Varela became a lifetime member of the UT Ex-students Association after his graduation.

Since joining ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company (URC) in 2003, Varela has held multiple positions in numerous areas: reservoir characterization, reservoir simulation, breakthrough projects, and research applications on development/depletion planning and evaluation of assets around the world. Now he supervises a team of scientists, software developers, and engineers charged with the development of the ExxonMobil reservoir simulator. At URC, Varela is involved in teaching, recruiting, and community volunteering programs such as the United Way.

Varela has been continuously involved in professional activities with the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). He was the vice-president of the SPE student chapter during his undergraduate days. He has been part of the Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) program committee for many years and in various positions, and has served as technical editor for SPE journals. Currently, he is a member of the SPE Reservoir Description and Dynamics Advisory Committee, Associate Editor for the SPE Reservoir Evaluation and Engineering Journal, and member of the ATCE Executive Advisory Committee. Varela received from SPE the Editorial Review Committee Award in 2006 and the Peer Apart Award in 2010. He was also recognized by the National Academy of Engineering’s Outstanding Young Engineer Program in 2008.

While attending UT Austin, Varela enjoyed hiking and biking as well as taking nature photographs. Not only is he grateful for earning a premier graduate education at UT PGE, but also for meeting future wife Elizabeth Zuluaga during his MS studies. Fortunately, Elizabeth later returned to UT in fall 2002 to earn her Doctorate’s degree (UT PGE, PhD ’05) and accepted his invitation for a coffee at La Dolce Vita. Both thoroughly enjoyed their UT PGE days and now look for opportunities to visit Austin. Elizabeth and Omar have two precious daughters, Sara and Sofia, who have focused Omar’s photography to family subjects. The Varelas make their home in Houston, Texas.



Contact Catherine Campbell at 512-471-3208