PetroChallenge 2010 Comes to UH

Computer Simulation competition piques interest in careers in the oil and gas industry

Hundreds of high school and university students will participate in PetroChallenge 2010, a computer simulation competition taking place at the College of Technology during the university's Winter Break. High school students will compete Jan. 9-10 and university students Jan. 11-12. Past competitors have described the event as "an intense treasure hunt."

Each student team forms a petroleum exploration company sent on a virtual mission to remote islands that have invited companies to begin exploration. The teams each have a $200 million budget to find commercially viable volumes of oil and gas. They learn basic geology and form strategic partnerships with other teams to drill exploration and appraisal wells.

The high school PetroChallenge teams will consist of students from each of three IPAA (Independent Petroleum Association of America) energy academy schools, which include Milby High School, Lamar High School and Westside Engineering and Geosciences Academy. Similarly, the university level PetroChallenge teams will be comprised of students from different colleges, each discipline bringing its particular strengths to the exercise. The students will face the challenges, opportunities and dilemmas of a real exploration team. Tasks include:

  • Finding basins by using magnetic/gravimetric surveys;
  • Prospecting by using 2-D seismic, common risk segment maps and spawning ground maps;
  • Partnering, using 2-D seismic and 3-D seismic maps;
  • Ordering rigs from a catalog of available equipment;
  • Selecting services by consulting a provider track record;
  • Selecting a drilling location by using 3-D seismic and environmental impact assessment surveys.

During this process, students gain insight into the risks and challenges of petroleum exploration. In each task, teams are expected to budget wisely, review purchased scientific data and oil field information, discuss options, and submit the decisions to the simulation. A real-time scoreboard will keep the competitors energized and focused on making well-informed decisions.

Simprentis, the software company that developed the program, saw a demand for industry-based educational events that would allow students to explore potential careers. PetroChallenge events have been held since 2004, when 600 students from five countries (Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Faroe Islands and Scotland) participated simultaneously.

Jack Christiansen, director of the Petroleum Technology Initiative at the College of Technology and organizer of the competition, describes the purpose of the event: "Students who participate in PetroChallenge 2010 will finish with a greater understanding of technological and scientific developments in the oil and gas industry.  Based on a preliminary trial, we believe that this event will provide students with the closest experience possible, in an academic setting, of working in the oil and gas industry in the exploration and production phase."

Doris Richardson, director of the IPAA Education Center and coordinator of the high school competition, is equally enthusiastic, saying, "The PetroChallenge two-day competition is the perfect vehicle to reinforce curriculum being taught in our energy academies. It will provide our students with an opportunity to integrate classroom curricula, understand and solve complex industry challenges, and collaborate as a team."

Both the high school and university PetroChallenge events will take place in the College of Technology's state-of-the-art computer labs. A training session for facilitators precedes the competitions.

Participation in the event is free to all students.

For more information, please contact Jack Christiansen at or 713-743-5874.

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities.  UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 36,000 students.

About the College of Technology

The College of Technology educates leaders in innovation and global industry. With nearly 2,000 students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in construction management, consumer science and merchandising, computer engineering technology, organization leadership and supervision, electrical power technology, logistics technology, network communications, human resources development and technology project management. It also offers specialized programs in biotechnology, surveying and mapping and digital media.