Many professionals in today’s drilling engineering industry can trace their careers back to a historic research facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of the oldest drilling consortia in the world, The University of Tulsa Drilling Research Project, TUDRP, is celebrating 50 years and is poised to continue its tradition for another five decades.
TUDRP is the concept of legendary TU professor Kermit Brown who initially established the consortium. A nonprofit cooperative between industry partners and university associates, TUDRP conducts basic and applied research to advance drilling technology. Students gain experience in the industry while partners benefit from the research developed. Professor B.J. Livesay was the group’s first director and welcomed a small group of industry partners. Livesay left the program in 1972, and John Day served as interim director until J.J. Azar accepted the permanent role. Azar arrived at TU in 1965 as an assistant professor in aerospace engineering. As director, he reached out to major oil corporations, independents, contractors and suppliers.
“We were the only existing cooperative research program in petroleum engineering that specialized in drilling while also promoting academics,” Azar said.
TUDRP grew to more than a dozen members with worldwide recognition, and by the late 1980s, more than 25 companies were involved.
Azar led TUDRP for 22 years while teaching drilling courses to hundreds of students and helping them publish technical papers as a direct result of the research at TUDRP.
Professor Stefan Miska, who initially taught at New Mexico Tech, joined TU in 1992 and succeeded Azar as TUDRP director in 1996. Miska continued to focus on Azar’s priorities while also expanding the research. The development of a flow loop system by Azar provided a location for new experiments, and Miska was eager to implement additional applications.
“I wanted to do more for the drilling industry,” he said. “I wanted to develop something that would be unique and useful.”
TUDRP began looking at all aspects of drilling mechanics and introduced new tools such as the Rock Mechanics Facility to better understand factors affecting the drilling rate and ultimately drilling costs. Current TUDRP resources includes a Low Pressure Flow Loop, Advanced Cuttings Transport Facility, Drill Pipe/Coiled Tubing Buckling Facility, Full Scale Testing Rig, Drill Pipe Fatigue Testing Facility, Fluids Characterization Lab, Small and Large Indoor Flow Loops, Shale-Fluid Interaction Test Cell, Tri-axial Rock Mechanics Testing Facility and others. The consortium team includes eight TU faculty members as well as research technicians, several consultants and research assistants. To date, 170 projects have been completed, and 14 are in progress.
“We can call on mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or other departments from TU’s College of Engineering when we need help,” Miska said. “We’re not just by ourselves, and we have full support around the campus.”
James R. Sorem Jr., dean of TU’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences has collaborated with TUDRP in the past.
“One of our biggest strengths is the synergy of our scientists and engineers,” Sorem said. “We’re a part of one unit, and there are significant opportunities among all of our disciplines.”
TUDRP is not immune to the challenges of today’s industry, but Miska said the organization respects oil’s cyclical nature and keeps pushing harder to advance drilling technology and minimize costs.
“This makes our industry relationships even stronger during these challenging times,” he said.
TUDRP membership currently includes 15 oil and service companies from the United States and abroad. Members visit TU’s North Campus biannually for advisory board meetings. Updates on current projects are presented, and members provide valuable feedback and improvement suggestions.
“We listen to our members, and we act accordingly,” Miska said. “We’re focused on optimization and automation. We are aiming for the future of the drilling industry.”
According to Senior Associate Director Nicholas Takach, research projects are validated and prioritized through a strict vetting process.
“Members are aware that our projects provide tangible deliverables,” he said. “Each project starts with a statement of the problem, and members know the expected results at the end of the project.”
TUDRP requires research assistants to meet the academic challenges of theoretical development while also understanding practical research principles of the industry. The consortium focuses on long-term research ideas deemed beneficial to its members. Hundreds of graduate students conducted research on TUDRP projects while successfully acquiring masters and Ph.D. degrees in petroleum engineering.
“We knew we could count on their performance, and it was easy to show continued success with TUDRP,” said Rhonda Jacobs, a past employee of the Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory who worked closely with TUDRP for several years.
“They knew how to transform students into future experts and keep stockholders engaged,” Jacobs said.
Associate Director Mengjiao Yu has worked for TUDRP at North Campus for 15 years.
“We are proud of our results and our research assistants,” Yu said. “Companies hiring our past students are always impressed with the level of skills and knowledge they have of the oil industry.”
J.C. Cunha, technical director of management and information for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, was Miska’s first doctoral student at TU. He has enjoyed a long career with Petrobras, the University of Alberta, Ecopetrol and the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement while keeping a close relationship with TUDRP. Cunha helped build the consortium’s horizontal buckling facility and published several papers on the technology.
“It’s hard in academia to attract support from companies, but TUDRP has always provided one of the best cost-benefit relationships when you consider the relatively small annual membership and the fantastic results provided,” he said.
Robello Samuel, a Halliburton Research Fellow, also earned his doctorate under the mentorship of Miska. Samuel wrote several books and received SPE’s Drilling Engineering Award in 2016.
“TUDRP provided a platform to network and gave me a head start in the industry,” he said. “I gained a more in-depth understanding of research, and I found my love for teaching.”
As of July 1, 2017, Evren Ozbayoglu is the new director of TUDRP. Miska retired from the directorship but will continue teaching. Ozbayoglu received his doctorate from TU in 2002. After teaching in Turkey for a few years, he returned to TUDRP in 2009.
“Looking back on the past 50 years, we are well known around the world for our drilling research,” Ozbayoglu said. “My major goal is to maintain that.”
Much like Miska, Ozbayoglu plans to promote TUDRP to current and future members. He understands the importance of tackling hot topics in today’s industry.
Challenges that arose 20 years ago still are researched today but with new methodologies and technologies. Representatives from each member company serve as champions of TUDRP — professionals who are TU alumni and strengthen the consortium’s business relations.
TUDRP has made essential contributions to the oil and gas industry in the past 50 years, and Ozbayoglu said the organization will continue to adapt and directly serve the world’s energy companies.
“We focus on developing projects that are applicable in the field to answer questions in industry,” he said. “That’s what made our past successful. That’s what will direct our future.”