Dr. Abdel Alim Hashem, professor of Petroleum Engineering at the Cairo University’s Mining, Petroleum and Metallurgical Engineering Department, has over 20 years of experience in drilling engineering, well completion and work over operations, petroleum Economics, petroleum exploration and subsurface geology. Based on his academic experience and knowledge, Dr Hashem discusses the obstacles hindering the development of petroleum engineering in Egypt, defends the academic curriculum from being responsible for the lack of skilled graduates and analyzes the current strategies of the Ministry of Petroleum.
Having the privilege of teaching in many local and international universities, what does the academic curriculum for petroleum engineering at Egyptian universities lack compared to international universities?
First, I have to clarify that the petroleum field is an international industry, thus the petroleum engineering curriculum should match and be compatible with the needs of this international industry. So, wherever the university is, the academic curriculum should be set on an international basis to ensure having high qualified and skilled graduates.
Second, the difference between universities can be exemplified in the role of students and their dedication.
It was said that Petroleum Eng. Graduates do not acquire the skills and knowledge needed in the market. How can the problem of experienced personnel shortage (Brain Drain) be solved in Egypt?
I believe that the problem is not the student, nor the university; it is basically due to the lack of opportunities for students to receive practical training internships in oil and gas companies before graduation. For instance, when I was in Germany studying for my PhD, all students got summer internships and used to work on rigs in all positions for three months.
Unfortunately, we do not have this opportunity here. I tried to address many companies several times; most of them did not respond and the remaining few could not provide more than 10 days only as a summer internship for 3-15 students whereas we have around 120 students.
To partially solve this point of weakness, the professors use some movies, documentaries and presentations in their lectures.
Is there any plan for Cairo University to sign protocols with petroleum companies to initiate summer internships for students?
Protocols have already been signed, but until now, they were not activated.
The lack of research and studies are considered one of the drawbacks of petroleum engineering, which hinder the progress of exploratory activities in many areas in Egypt. Comment
The process of research and studies require specific financial capabilities and advanced equipments. But, as a matter of fact, even if we can afford conducting research, the foreign investors get their consultancy and studies from abroad.
Is it due to the lack of credibility?
I do not know. But, it has been a general trend from a long time, although we do have the capabilities to conduct such studies upon request.
You have conducted a lot of research and academic contributions, have you ever been offered the opportunity to apply your studies practically in the market/field?
I had the opportunity to conduct several research papers abroad and luckily enough, some companies supported them and carried out the mission of marketing my studies. But, in Egypt, I did not receive such an opportunity. I recall we, my work team and I, had once tried to deal with a private company to apply one of our research studies. However, the officials were not interested.
From an academic point of view, what do you think of the Ministry of Petroleum’s strategy to develop the Upper Egypt area in terms of oil and gas explorations?
All the exploratory activities that took place in Upper Egypt do not cover 50% of the total area. However, the exploration there can not be of an economic value to initiate a production line, as it is from a tar-sand layer. This layer necessitates a specific technique to extract oil. Recently, some foreign corporations have expressed their interest to gain access in Upper Egypt to carry out exploratory activities. Keeping in mind the risk of losing huge sums of money if no oil and gas discoveries are achieved, it is more beneficial to give foreign investors the license to conduct the highly advanced and costly seismic research and be responsible for the exploratory process in this area.
What are the pros and cons of intensifying deep drilling in Egypt?
I believe deep drilling is becoming a necessity rather than a choice and it is getting more important nowadays as shallow drilling has been over used. This latter does not end up with major findings as before and we need to move to deep drilling despite its high costs. For instance, to carry out deep water/sea drilling in the Mediterranean Sea, at the depth of 1000 feet, it can cost $30-40 million. Thus, to encourage this move, more agreements to get foreign partners should be signed.
On a global level, there is currently a move towards Deep Ocean drilling, 3000 feet deep. Such procedures should be implemented to meet the increasing demand for oil and gas worldwide.
In the shadow of your workshop “Implementing Cost Effective Deepwater Drilling Strategies to Mitigate Risk, Maintain Safety and Ensure Project Success” represented during Asia 2005 Conference, what are the risks of deep water drilling?
The risks of deep water drilling are mainly the blow-outs; explosions during drilling. The seismic research should tackle for example the possibility of having gas at a certain depth, which can seriously affect the balance of rig and lead to its drowning. In my study, I studied the sources of risk in deep water drilling which are summarized in: blow-ups, drowning and burning of rigs or not reaching the targeted drilling depth, besides investigating the different means to avoid these risks.
Brownfield, a concept that has been raised to call for the re-use of these fields and resuming drilling activities. Do you think it is practical and feasible to get those fields back into operations once again?
There is a new technique, known as tertiary recovery. This type of production re-uses brownfield, which can be economically beneficial in light of the high price of oil and gas worldwide. For example, when the oil price was at the rate of $10, it was more feasible to produce oil from new fields directly. But, at present, the cost of using new technologies to extract oil from mature fields and achieving an economic profit will be covered as oil prices are increasing.
From an academic point of view, this technique is practical to be processed in Egypt, without ignoring the vitality of carrying out studies first to determine the fields to start with.
Do you think, as some experts and researchers announced that Egypt will be a net importer of oil by next year?
If there are no new discoveries and investments in the petroleum field, we will be using our oil and gas reservoirs, meaning that we are heading to a critical energy scarcity. Therefore, discoveries should be achieved to compensate our domestic usages or else we will be running out of energy. Based on several studies, the world will reach the phase of oil and gas verge by the year 2040. Thus, we have to have back-ups or alternative energies for the future, such as wind, solar and above all nuclear energy.
You published a study about, Carbonate Plug: A new Cheep Water Shut-Off Technology, in the Engineering Journal of the University of Qatar, in 2002. What does this technology mean?
This study was based on a new technology during that time called Multilateral Drilling which involves straight line drilling to a specific depth and then making up to six subsidiary holes, taking the shape of a tree and its routes, in order to increase production area from the same field. My research tackled the effectiveness of using a substance known as “Carbonate Plug”, which is placed at the end of each hole to close it and the operator can resume the production from any hole by simply dissolving this material with water. This substance facilitates the extraction phase and enhances its efficiency.
What is the best technique for waste disposal in Egypt as you supervised a thesis on the “Implementation of Waste Disposal Techniques in Offshore Oil and Gas Companies in Egypt?”
The hydrothermal technique is considered the best way; it involves heating a central exhaust, while rotating it at a high speed which leads to the separation of liquid, gas and solid substances. Focusing on resulted liquid, it consists of mixed oil and gas; this latter is reused once again. As for solids, they can be used in other industries.
What are the decisions you are hoping to apply in order to ameliorate the standard of petroleum engineering, research…etc?
In fact, I will focus on two major items. The first is to initiate more cooperation between educational institutions and companies, whether private or public in order to provide students with the privilege of getting practical trainings in these companies and therefore, having experienced graduates and solving the lack of skilled Egyptian personnel in the field.
Second, I would definitely decide to increase the budget for academic research and studies in the field in order to develop the petroleum sector in Egypt.
Recently, I have succeeded to engage in talks with TU- Clausthal, a reputable educational institution in Germany to initiate mutual cooperation in the fields of research through which they will establish students exchange programs and new fields for Ph.D studies. Last month, the president of Cairo University signed a protocol with TU- Clausthal and I was chosen to be in charge of the activation of this agreement. We are now in the phase of final preparation and execution.
Dr. Hashem has supervised many research projects, published several papers and carried out extensive courses at Cairo University, besides lecturing at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Marine Transport in Egypt and King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.
By Yomna Bassiouni