January 2008

The energy industry, primarily oil and gas, and Louisiana State University (LSU) have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship for more than seven decades. In fact, the evolution and rise to national prominence of several of LSU’s keystone programs (e.g. chemistry, petroleum and chemical engineering, geology & geophysics, etc.) closely parallels the evolution and growth of the oil and gas (as well as the broader petrochemical) sector first along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and eventually on the global scale. It is therefore not an overstatement to assert that much of LSU’s academic framework has been substantially shaped by contributions from and close interplay with the oil and gas industry.

Both the upstream and downstream sectors of the energy industry have a strong presence in Louisiana, and although corporate structures and ownership will continue to evolve, there is no realistic scenario under which this presence will not continue into the foreseeable future. The underlying reasons for this presence include: the enormous investment in infrastructure; the proximity to the still-prolific Gulf of Mexico oil and gas fields; the availability of a population with a positive attitude toward energy development; vast existing and planned production and refining; and a workforce that has traditionally been trained/supported by the activities of LSU.

We seek to expand this relationship with a major campaign to promote relevant state-of-the art education and research at LSU – one of the top Carnegie-recognized “Research Intensive” universities in the South and the state’s flagship educational institution. Such a partnership will provide a greater number of trained engineers, scientists, business professionals, and other employees who possess an understanding of the industry, as it is now and as it will evolve into the future. LSU is the only university in the state with the capabilities to train a diverse workforce across all of the relevant disciplines and perform cutting-edge applied research, including interdisciplinary systems approaches that are most salient to the energy industry.

We invite expanded participation and support from the key oil and gas corporations operating within, or with a strong continuing interest in, the state of Louisiana and/or the Gulf region, in any and all areas of mutual interest:

  • Workforce development.
  • Applied and theoretical research [both single-company proprietary and via consortia].
  • Business/management development.
  • Environmental/coastal restoration and management partnerships.
  • Public relations and/or “reputation building” efforts.

LSU’s goals in seeking new and/or expanded partnerships include:

  • Creating a nationally-competitive and diverse scientific, managerial, and entrepreneurial stock of human capital for Louisiana. This is LSU’s core business/mission and its major contribution to the oil and gas industry, to the state and national economies, and especially to Louisiana and the region’s future.
  • Recovering and improving Louisiana’s quality of life and culture, making the state and Gulf Coast region a better and more stable place to live, work, play, and capitalize on the natural wealth of the region. LSU is one major player, but a unique opportunity exists to expand LSU’s impact and leadership via strategic partnerships with the energy industry.
  • Improving and protecting Louisiana’s energy and economic infrastructure through coastal restoration and management, as well as urban planning and development. As LSU focuses its talent, expertise, and resources on public or common aspects of this – such as levies, roads, housing, communications, disaster preparedness, etc. – individual companies will be working to protect and manage their own assets. Working collaboratively will benefit both efforts.
  • Creating a stronger long-term, mutually-beneficial research and development partnership between LSU and the oil and gas industry.

Examples of specific areas for collaborative investment in support of this campaign will include:

  • Endowed positions (especially chairs) to recruit nationally for faculty with competencies related to the social or public aspects of the state’s recovery and growth. These could be funded either with or without corporate naming attached, and would be in support of specific areas of research interest: e.g., fluid dynamics, seismic stratigraphy, applied depositional geo-systems, deep water off-shore drilling technologies, coastal restoration, data networks, grand challenge simulations, etc.
  • Named graduate and undergraduate fellowships, post-doctoral fellows, and prizes for gifted students.
  • Expanded numbers of internships for undergraduate and graduate students.
  • Expansion of unique state-of-the-art research facilities via investment in research and IT-equipment.
  • Reciprocal scientist, engineer, and executive “exchange” and “in-residence” programs between energy companies and LSU.

Additional collaborations are envisioned in the areas of post-hurricane recovery, coastal and urban restoration, environmental protection, alternative energy sources, etc. Examples:

  • The recently instituted, multidisciplinary “LSU Stewardship Initiative” creates a basic institutional-level framework for coordinating LSU’s considerable human capital and research infrastructure focusing on areas of greatest need and to ensure collaboration with local and regional governmental and non-governmental relief, restoration, and recovery efforts. As such, LSU can be viewed as a good partner for corporations seeking effective, non-duplicative, and fiscally responsible recovery efforts for sound long-term investment.
  • Business, the Sciences, Engineering, Social Work, Coast and Environment, Architecture, and Public Policy provide interdisciplinary research, planning, and technical expertise to facilitate the Gulf Coast’s recovery.
  • Collaborations in “field study”-type applied research endeavors in areas such as coastal/wetlands restorations, aquaculture farming, etc.
  • Broadening LSU’s nationally-recognized service learning student network to expand internships in affected communities and recovery agencies.

Among LSU’s current academic and research foci relevant to this proposal, we cite a representative few, of many potential examples (understanding that space precludes the inclusion here of an exhaustive listing):

  1. Structural research required to improve drilling performance of oil and gas wells in deep-water.

LSU has built a strong and strengthening research capacity in drilling research applicable to deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, including bit performance and drillstring analysis; flow-induced vibrations associated with deep water drilling; well control procedures for managed pressure drilling, tribology (including lubrication, friction and wear); analysis of materials and processes; and fatigue and damage analysis. Our interdisciplinary team includes mechanical, civil, and petroleum engineers, and also computational fluid dynamics experts from mathematics and computer science. This expertise is supported by the ability to perform designed field tests at an on-campus well facility (the only such structure on a major university campus in the USA), as well as high-end computational infrastructure to support the interface between experimental and simulations approaches to these research questions.

  1. Understanding the impact of hurricane forces on drilling, pipeline, and support infrastructure.

LSU’s researchers and scientists strive to understand the impacts of high wind and wave action on structures associated with energy exploration, production, transportation, refining, and storage. Enhanced modeling of damage to structures under defined, but extreme, wind and wave conditions are needed to design more resilient facilities. Research into improved materials and design characteristics that maximize resiliency under extreme conditions must inform construction of infrastructure at risk. Wind tunnel and computational modeling facilities are available and considerable expertise exists in Civil Engineering & other collaborating units.

  1. Delta System Dynamics: geological studies of the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast region.

Research expertise in the geomorphology of the Gulf Coast region is a traditional strength with Geology and Geophysics; Civil, Ecological, and Petroleum Engineering; Geography and Anthropology; and the School for the Coast and Environment – all of which possess deep faculty expertise. This remains critical in characterizing the deepwater reservoirs associated with these delta systems. Moreover, the Mississippi system, from northern Louisiana to the deep Gulf of Mexico, provides a world-class natural laboratory, such that fundamental process-based studies of the Mississippi system over a variety of spatial and temporal scales have had, and will continue to have, significant impacts on our understanding of delta systems elsewhere. A joint LSU-industry partnership might concentrate on development of a sustainable world-class interdisciplinary graduate research and instructional program to address basic and applied issues related to delta systems in the broadest sense. These partnerships might also include, but not be limited to: petroleum systems and geologic history, roles of large delta systems in global biogeochemical cycles, modern land-surface dynamics and sea-level change, and modern and future environmental and engineering challenges (including carbon sequestration research, analysis, and policymaking).

  1. Public Policy – disaster management and recovery.

The need to understand inter-agency responses to large-scale disasters is of considerable concern in both the public and private sector. Understanding people and communication networks (i.e., how to make sure that these networks remain robust and functional) is a key research focus. Experts on public policy, political science, social work, industrial engineering, and business, working with LSU’s nationally-renowned Homeland Security training group, provide an opportunity for important interdisciplinary research and training that is critically needed.

  1. Onshore Facilities and “Downstream” Research and Technologies

The interdependency of off-shore and on-shore facilities dictates that there is a constant need to study new catalysts and materials for petroleum cracking and downstream production. Additionally, more robust control systems will be needed in deepwater exploration and production due to the pressures, temperatures, and corrosive nature of this environment. Ongoing research at LSU within the Chemical Engineering and Chemistry departments may enhance industry’s catalyst technology in order to improve efficiency and selectivity. Several specific research areas include: alloy electrodeposition, hydrogenation/dehydrogenation reactions in the future involving high MW materials (e.g., bio-derived oils, waxes, and biomass), meso/megaporous synthesis of catalyst supports, and new direct synthesis methods. LSU researchers can also work with industry to develop new process optimization and control technologies for both onshore process facilities and deepwater offshore exploration control systems.

Suggested “Next Steps”:

We encourage any and all suggestions and/or feedback, particularly from the vantage point of industry priorities and needs as they relate to higher education. Understanding these interests, and then matching our expertise to best meet them, will be critical to the success of these future discussions. We therefore would like to propose the following as the next logical steps:

  • One or more meeting(s) between company-specific research and development leadership and LSU’s relevant top faculty and researchers, perhaps coinciding with a carefully-planned campus tour, with each commencing as soon as possible. One or more visit(s) to company R&D facilities by a team of LSU’s top relevant researchers is also suggested.
  • Progressively high-level discussions between company human resource/workforce development manager(s) and relevant LSU entities, including Career Services, Institutional Advancement, Research and Economic Development, and all applicable/appropriate academic disciplines.

In support of the LSU Energy Initiative, both college-specific and multidisciplinary teams of faculty and researchers are being formed, with the overall purpose of identifying key areas of relevant research specialization. Additionally, a university-wide workforce development team has been formed to improve corporate/client knowledge of, and access to, LSU’s best qualified potential interns and hires, in all relevant disciplines and at all degree levels. Our ultimate goal, once the interactions and discussions outlined above are completed, is to jointly draft with each corporate partner a comprehensive, new strategic outline for future interactions, describing specific desired outcomes and tailored to maximize mutual value. LSU’s membership in company-specific “preferred university” lists is also a desired outcome.

For additional information please contact Jeff A. Hale, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Corporate, Foundation, and Research Relations, 3838 West Lakeshore Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70808; Office (225) 578-5499; Cell (225) 931-0084; Fax (225) 578-0530; E-mail jhale@lsu.edu

The LSU Energy Initiative Institutional Leadership Team consists of the following individuals:

  • LSU Chancellor Sean O’Keefe
  • Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Harold Silverman
  • Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development (ORED) Brooks Keel
  • Vice Chancellor for Communications and University Relations Rusty Jabour
  • Dean Zaki Bassiouni, College of Engineering
  • Dean Kevin Carman, College of Basic Sciences
  • Dean Ed Laws, School of The Coast & Environment
  • Interim Dean William Lane, E.J. Ourso College of Business
  • Robert Twilley, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development
  • David Constant, Associate Dean for Research, College of Engineering
  • Interim Chair Louis Thibodeaux, Department of Geology and Geophysics
  • Steve Sears, Chair, Department of Petroleum Engineering
  • Allan Pulsipher, Executive Director, Center for Energy Studies
  • Ed Seidel, Director, Center for Computation and Technology
  • Mary Feduccia, Director, LSU Career Services
  • Harry Roberts, Director, Coastal Studies Institute
  • G. Bowdon, President and CEO, LSU Foundation
  • Jeff Hale, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Corporate, Foundation, and Research Relations, LSU Foundation (LSUF) and Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED)