An Early History of UT PGE (circa 1956)

The history of the petroleum engineering education at The University of Texas begins with the discovery of oil on University Lands, May 28, 1923, with the completion of the famous Santa Rita Well No. 1 near Big Lake, Reagan County.

UT PGE faculty and students pose for a photo at an American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) field trip in Texas, 1936.
UT PGE faculty and students pose for a photo at an American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) field trip in Texas, 1936.

The discovery well, although small, was a precursor of the much deeper and prolific Ellenberger reservoir which was found on December 1, 1928, and which opened an entirely new series of oil bearing strata to the oil industry in West Texas. This well further enjoyed the distinction of being the deepest producing well in the world and the deepest ever drilled up to that time. The new Big Lake discovery emphasized dramatically the value of the University Lands, West Texas as a major oil province and increasing need for engineering know-how in the industry and the resulting educational problem. The University of Texas met the problem by offering a course in petroleum engineering.

The first course of study was organized by Dr. E. H. Sellards, present Director Emeritus of the Bureau of Economic Geology, in 1928. Four classes were taught in this year by Dr. Sellards and a fifth by Dr. E. P. Schoch, eminent professor of Chemical Engineering. The following year classes were offered by Professor F. B. Plummer of the Bureau of Economic Geology, who had wide experience with the oil industry prior to his association with the University, Dr. L.S. Brown, Professor of Physics, and Drs. Schoch and Sellards. A formal curriculum was adopted this same year which included graduate as well as undergraduate work. The Board of Regents approved the establishment of a Department of Petroleum Engineering in 1930 and Professor F. B. Plummer was appointed Chairman of the Department. Professor Plummer, eminent scientist and stubborn New England Yankee, gave unsparingly of his time and talent until his untimely death in 1949.

The rapidly expanding petroleum industry and the technology of petroleum engineering was reflected in rapid growth and expansion of the Department. The first class of two, Ralph Hughes King and Asbury Sloan Parks, both eminent engineers today, was graduating in 1931. Three more men were graduated in 1932. The first graduate degree, that of Master of Science, was awarded to R. B. Newcome in June, 1932.

Mr. Newcome served as Instructor in the Department from 1935 to 1936. Dr. R. T. Hill, eminent pioneer geologist and former Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, was appointed Honorary Lecturer in the Department, a position held by him until his death in 1941. 

Enrollment in the new department continued to increase despite the depression, and the increasing enrollment and development of the technology of petroleum engineering required additional teaching staff. In the winter of 1935, George H, Fancher, who had had considerable engineering experience in the oil fields of California, Pennsylvania, and the Mid-Continent, and who had taught previously in the Departments of Petroleum Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines and the Pennsylvania State College, was appointed Professor of Petroleum Engineering.  The staff was further augmented in 1936 through the appointment of Harry H. Power, former Chief Production Engineer of the Gypsy Division of the Gulf Oil Corporation, Tulsa, Oklahoma, as Professor in Petroleum Engineering. Professor Power became the second Chairman of the Department in February, 1937. Robert E. Hardwicke, of Fort Worth, was appointed Honorary Lecturer in Petroleum Engineering for the scholastic year 1936-37.

Dr. George Fancher, left, supervises graduate students in the Drilling Fluids Research Lab, 1950s.
Dr. George Fancher, left, supervises graduate students in the Drilling Fluids Research Lab, 1950s.

Members of the staff at various times since 1936 in the capacity of Instructor or Assistant Professor, include W. J. Murray, Jr., George McCoy, J. I. Laudermilk, R. L. Whiting, G.L. Corrigan, A. E. Sweeney, Jr., Charles Weinaug, Leroy Puls, Charles B. Peterson, Wallace W. Wilson, Lake Robertson, J. M. Lebeaux, Charles W. Larkham, J. R. Spencer, Paul Roston, Howard Bradley and Webb Holland.

In the Fall of 1952, Eldred W. Hough, formerly of the Research Department of the Stanolind Oil and Gas Company, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was appointed Professor of Petroleum Engineering, and in September, 1952, Frank W. Jessen, who had had many years experience with the Humble Oil and Refining Company and with Petrolios Mexicanos, joined the staff as Professor of Petroleum Engineering. 

Dr. Sylvain J. Pirson, author of the text, “Elements of Oil Reservoir Engineering,” and a noted authority on the interpretation of well logging, was appointed Professor of Petroleum Engineering, effective February 1, 1956.

Since the department was established, the technology of petroleum engineering has undergone many changes and has come of age. This change has been reflected continuously in a changing curriculum in the department. Whereas the early emphasis when the department was formed was upon descriptive technological courses, these have been replaced by quantitative courses which provide adequate training in the application of fundamental theory to the solution of the many complicated problems that characterize modern petroleum engineering. During these formative years material has been developed here and elsewhere which is peculiarly characteristic of the technology of petroleum engineering.

Changes have been made in the program of graduate work available in the department to keep pace with the need of the petroleum industry and the profession. Research always has been emphasized in the Department, and important work of drilling liquids, salt water disposal, stimulation of oil recovery by acidizing, recycling, heaving shale and difficult drilling problems, reservoir engineering, secondary recovery of oil and related problems.

Research in the field of petroleum engineering received greatly needed impetus and assistance with the creation of the Texas Petroleum Research Committee by joint resolution of the Board of Regents of The University of Texas, the Board of Directors of Texas A&M University and the Texas Railroad Commission in 1947. This Committee was formed to bring together research facilities of the two schools and the information and experience of the Railroad Commission in a cooperative effort to seek scientific means to increase the total recovery of oil from fields of Texas and to improve the training of skilled scientists and technologists in great demand by industry. TPRC has stimulated research at both institutions with the result that work of importance has been accomplished and is underway and young men are enabled to stay in school to receive additional training. At least 200 young men have been better trained for the industry than would otherwise have been possible. These men have contributed important data and work reflected in the impressive list of some 50 publications available to the industry and the citizens of Texas.

The Texas Petroleum Research Committee proper is composed of two petroleum engineering professors from each of the participating schools, under the chairmanship of William J. Murray, Jr., Railroad Commissioner of Texas. Present membership in addition to Chairman Murray consists of Professors Frank W. Jessen and Sylvain J. Pirson of The University of Texas, and Professors Harvey Kennedy and R. L. Whiting of Texas A&M. The Committee is responsible for the technical program of research carried out at the two division of TPRC, namely the A&M Division and the University Division. George Fancher as Director of TPRC is responsible to the Committee.

Departmental staff have and are contributing to the oil industry by holding important offices with the various technical societies, by committee work in these societies and by contributions to programs held throughout the state and country. Also, staff members have endeavored to maintain contact with the industry through means of consulting work, both at home and abroad, in order to render more effective service to the university.  The progress of the Department, its standards of educational values and the recognition of the petroleum engineer as a professional man is the result of close cooperation between faculty members, university administrations and the petroleum industry.  The extension of intellectual frontiers which serve to enlighten and stimulate instruction in the classroom and benefit the petroleum industry and the citizens of Texas is the primary objective of the department.

(Taken from the UT Austin publication Engineering Science News, February 1956.)