UH Geoscience Team Wins International Petroleum Exploration Competition

Grad Student Team Won $20,000 to Support Student Activities

A team of graduate geoscience students from the University of Houston topped more than 300 teams from around the world to win the 2019 Imperial Barrel Award.

IBA Winners
Geoscience graduate students from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics beat out more than 300 teams from around the world in a competition hosted by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

The annual competition, sponsored by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, requires teams of geoscience graduate students to evaluate industry datasets from prospective petroleum-rich basins, using state-of-the-art software and technology. The final competition was held in San Antonio in conjunction with the annual convention of the AAPG.

The UH team received the Imperial Barrel Award trophy and a check for $20,000, which will be used to support the activities of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the AAPG “Wildcatters” student chapter.

Team captain Aydin Shahtakhtinskiy, who is studying for his Ph.D. in geology and is president-elect of the UH Wildcatters chapter, said students started out with an internal competition to determine who made the team. “This is a very competitive program within UH,” he said.

A UH team also won the international competition in 2017, making UH one of just two universities to have won it more than once. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette won in 2012, 2014 and 2018.

AAPG provides each team with a dataset from a sedimentary basin eight weeks before the competition, including information about geology, geophysics, petrophysics, risk assessment and other facts relevant to understanding petroleum potential. Shahtakhtinskiy said each team member took on a specific topic, based on their specialization, and spent hours every weekday poring over the results. Weekly practice presentations yielded questions and advice from faculty, and the team also met weekly with industry advisors.

The dataset used by the UH team covered the natural gas-rich offshore area of northwestern Australia.

Shahtakhtinskiy said each member of the team is passionate about geoscience. And they really wanted to win, he said.

But Spencer Fuston, who is studying for his Ph.D. in geology, said the biggest reward proved to be the opportunity to meet people in the industry. All five team members hope to work in the industry after graduation, he said.

“I think all of us on the team were interested in participating to get practical experience at things you would actually be doing at an oil company,” he said.

In addition to Shahtakhtinskiy and Fuston, members of the winning team – all from the UH Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics – include master’s degree candidates Jacob Miller, Patrick Chandler and Andrew Stearns. Faculty advisors included Paul Mann, John Castagna and Kurt Rudolph.

UH offers the IBA competition as part of a graduate-level course called Petroleum Prospecting; in addition to the competition team, the 2019 class had two additional teams of five students each who worked with the same dataset, gaining training that is respected by oil company recruiters.

Gary Guthrie, who is retired from Marathon Oil, and Reynaldo Cardona of Chevron served as the team’s industry advisors.

Started by the AAPG in 2006, the competition involves 455 universities in 61 countries. Second place went to LaSalle University in Paris; third place went to the University of Oklahoma. With a budget of $500,000, the competition is supported by AAPG and oil companies.

- Jeannie Kever, University Media Relations