Interview With Dr. Blasingame
By: Amanda Nelson and Dr. Reza Ghasemi
Why did you decide to study petroleum engineering, geology, etc.?
(laughs out loud) I changed my major 4 times. It started coming together for me late in my sophomore year. I’m impressed by people who can start strong and end strong. As with all things, I seem to only learn from adversity.
What’s the key to being successful in college?
Some people may not like my answer. Engage the faculty. Make us do our job. Don’t self-medicate —— when you (students) work among yourselves you’re wrong 90 percent of the time. We (the faculty) are not paid to deny or deflect — if there is something you don’t like, say something. If you believe you need more guidance, say something.
The secret is that you should never lose sight of the fact that you’re here because you’re supposed to be here. I’ve never met anybody who couldn’t succeed. I’ve met a hell of a lot of people who just wouldn’t put in the effort to succeed. If you want do well academically you have to be prepared. You have to ask yourself: what’s that professor going to ask me on the test? Have I studied the right topics? Have I studied enough? Think about it, how many times have you studied the wrong thing? You must be prepared — read before class, do your homework with enthusiasm, and follow-up on any/all things you don’t understand.
I operate from the Mr. Miyagi rule — “there is no such thing as bad student, only bad teacher” (original “The Karate Kid” movie). But there is a requirement that you earn your stripes, no short-cuts. If you are sincere and hard-working and you don’t succeed, we (the faculty) are probably doing something wrong. It’s not just your fault. So just ASK for help, you will get it. But you have to be prepared — you have to earn your education.
What do you like best about being a professor at Texas A&M University?
Not a fair question (laughs). I can’t imagine anybody having a better job than me — I love being a teacher more than anything else I do. I’d like the “teacher” title to be somewhere on my tombstone. Our students make it so much easier. TAMU undergraduates are second to none. Your selectivity and how you got here sets you apart. People come here with a desire to create something. We have truly world-class, phenomenal students.
The best days of petroleum engineering are ahead of us. We provide a morally acceptable mechanism for society to build something. You take us out of the equation and everything stops. I don’t think there is going to be a downturn in your career, maybe a flat spot. Energy, eEnergy, eEnergy — a career in some aspect of energy will not disappoint. I would comment that “cheap energy” went away in my career, which is not to say that hydrocarbon energy is necessarily over-priced, but it is no longer underpriced, at least not liquids; I believe the current “gas glut” in the US will moderate as more industries switch to natural gas.
What was the toughest class you took? Have you ever failed a class?
My graduate advisor was Dr. John Lee (now at U. Houston) —— Dr. Lee insisted that I take several classes in chemical engineering (he’s a chemical engineer … obviously), and I confess that at the time I didn’t appreciate it. I was unprepared. I had one course that was particularly tough —— when you’re unprepared for a class and the instructor isn’t interested in “you,” it is a challenge. After the course I was so disappointed in the experience that I re-taught myself the course over the summer (I re-worked every assignment and mastered every topic).
I did fail a course in my B.S. degree (“Statics” in Mechanical Engineering) — there were over 300 of us in the classroom, and something like 35-40 percent failed, which does not justify my performance, but I note this for perspective. When you are young your pride takes such blows much better than as you age;, I re-took Statics (and almost re-took Dynamics), but during Thermodynamics it all started making sense and I began making very strong grades.
What was your graduate school like?
M.S. in 1986, Ph.D. in 1989 —— I’d go back to graduate school for 1000 years before I’d go back to undergraduate school for a day. For me, undergraduate studies was like being in basic training (in the military) for 4 years, but in graduate school you can do anything you want to do. The door was open —— taking the courses that interested me, working on some novel and unique research; this was a very formative period for me, I became very strong in terms of my technical skills.
I will note for those who may want to know that the Department began BOTH a “Departmental” qualifying exam and a “Departmental” preliminary exam, both of which were excruciatingly tough. I took a couple of math classes that were a little tough, and we already discussed my love of Chemical Engineering courses. I also took several geology courses as well as just about every course offered in Petroleum Engineering.
Who is your favorite professor at A&M?
Like with your children, you can’t really have favorites — but Dr. Wu (from Taiwan) — I think English was his third or fourth language; he would constantly say things in “a most unique way,” and he was really good-natured about everything. He became a very good mentor when I came on to the faculty, and I would have to say that that I really enjoyed my time with him.
My graduate advisor, Dr. Lee, was like Master Yoda (in Star Wars), half the time we did not communicate particularly well, but he taught me how to learn, how to think, and how to create —— he knows how to move the bar just enough for you to have to exceed your abilities to achieve something significant. I would also have to say that most of my good habits in teaching I learned from Dr. Lee —— things like how to ask questions, how to propose hard topics, and how to manage people doing poorly in a class.
Do you happen to remember any specific student? Why?
You remember people who stood apart. We had a student 15 years ago who ran for SPE president and she really had a good message. The other candidate’s message was “free beer” so he won. But she had a true belief in what shee wanted to do and it left a lasting impression on me that she knew she would not win, but she put herself out there to make a difference.
Like I said earlier, you are not supposed to have favorites. You have people who make an impression or not. I confess that I have a problem with students who don’t do their best. It’s funny how you remember those guys. It’s just not that hard, it’s about the attitude. I always have time for people who try.
What’s the next “big thing” in the petroleum industry?
It’s tough because we knew the deep water was out there early nineties. We knew from seismic we would go after this eventually. We also knew we would go horizontal exclusively in some plays at some point. It took a lot of work to get here, specifically in drilling and well completions. I was a bit over-focused on tight gas from about 1995 to 2005, I did see shales coming in the fashion that they did — I thought the wells would be far too expensive and the performance too low; I certainly missed the scale at which companies could (and did) deploy capital, and that the liquids-rich plays would essentially pay for all the learnings.
You’re really asking me what the next big thing is instead of the next evolutionary thing — evolutionary being the case where we went from 5 stages to 40 fracture treatment stages in less than 4 years. We are now at 70-75 fracture treatment stages and somebody will probably do 100 fracture treatment stages in the next year or so. For unconventionals, we will have to deconstruct the reservoir (via stimulation) to increase recovery. Not revolutionary, evolutionary.
A lot of improvements will be around process —— the ability to move services and product. We still have a problem with oil and pipelines. Monetizing stranded gas really does come down to LNG (liquefied natural gas),; maybe CNG (compressed natural gas). The largest “gas-to-liquids” facility in the world is in Qatar and it probably doesn’t make money (at least not yet). Gas-to-liquids is touted as the holy grail for gas — just perform a quick search on the internet you find ideas for wellsite conversion, but (to my knowledge) there have been no practical deployments to date.
A question I keep pondering is “why have unconventionals been so successful here (North America) and not so much elsewhere?” (at least not yet) The obvious (and frequent answer) is that companies in North America are willing to risk capital and they have a ready market nearby for many (or most) unconventional plays in North America.
What are your hobbies? What sports do you follow/play?
Work. Just work. There is always something to do. We bought a powerboat a couple of years ago and I am guessing that we’ve been out on it maybe 10-12 times (maybe). My kids and my wife are my life, so I try to spend whatever free time I have with them. If I have a hobby it is Mallett Brothers ribs in Navasota, red bull and monster drinks, along with a slow drink of very good tequila.
Do I take vacations? Last real vacation was probably 2003/2004. I’m on a mission. I had parents who were dirt poor, from large farming families. My parents worked all the time as well, so I never learned how to relax. I don’t have a specific hobby. Golf is the ultimate waste of time for someone like me. I am good at traveling, but I am not sure I would say that I “like” traveling. (laughed at question about how many countries have you visited)
Can you give us the best story from your infamous 12 hour well testing exam (in PETE 324)?
(laughs) Everyone always asks… The only way to “test” practice-based diagnostics and analysis is to have the student analyze a complete sequence of data. The “12 hour” just evolved over time, I have had students complete these exams in 3 to 4 hours, but also had a student who had to be physically separated from their exam at something like 15 or 16 hours (they did not prepare, and were trying to learn while doing — that strategy often does not work (as advice)).
The truth is that these practice-based exams often let an average student perform much better than average — without as much stress on time, students can demonstrate a depth of mastery in their skills. My goal was to distribute the grades according to effort. I tried to never give the same question twice,; which was challenging. The last couple of years that I taught PETE 324 we used more synthetic problems because they were more readily analyzable.
I actually prefer project work, but that leaves too much room for collaboration (a polite word for cheating) —— I don’t necessarily mean that collaboration is negative but the temptation to cut corners is always there. As for my tests, the raw averages are typically low, but I curve to a mean of 70 (or a little higher) so there typically weren’t many (or any) grade protests.; but Occasionally there werethere were occasionally cases where the student just wasn’t prepared or willing to adapt to a practice-based examination, but those werebut those were actually rare exceptions.
Comments about the TAMU undergraduate program.
The faculty reorganized the undergraduate program (almost completely) in 1998 with the unintended consequence of creating a truly difficult junior year. The original design set forth in 1998 is worse than what is being done now as there has been some re-balancing, but the junior year in Petroleum Engineering remains one of the most challenging curricula at Texas A&M. To their credit, our undergraduate students adapt, engage, and excel. As a closure comment, I’ve generally found that the undergraduate students generally prefer harder classes as they know that these courses will add more value during their career.