FARMINGTON — It's a simple process, find a piece of land that looks promising, evaluate it, and make an offer.

The process can get a lot more complicated when the purchaser is looking for land that will produce oil and gas, but the basics are the same and one local company is giving high school seniors the opportunity to participate and recommend bidding prices.

Thirty-five local high school seniors participated in Merrion Oil & Gas' engineering mentorship program during the 2013 fall class.

The students attended classes at the company once a week to learn how to use engineering principles to forecast the performance of an oil or gas well. They then create spreadsheets of their analysis and presented their recommendations to T. Greg Merrion, the company president.

And the company used its money to bid on real properties and in a few cases since 2000, student recommendations have yielded a real-life purchase valued as high as $1.5 million, said George Sharpe, Merrion Oil & Gas manager.

"It's a real evaluation. In early December, the auction was based in Houston and we bid online. We found some property, evaluated it and tried to buy it. The kids got to watch online as we bid against the competition," he said.

This year, the company did not acquire any new property, but the process of evaluating was a main focus for the class, he said.

He said the students, who volunteered on their own accord, were broken into groups and each group evaluated a property and predicted what it would sell for. All the students pitched in money, and the pool was split between the winning groups whose forecast most closely matched the actual selling price.

Sharpe said the company tends to place conservative bids, but if the auction stops at a price that is agreeable, they buy it.

"We're committed. If no one outbids us, were locked in. We're buying it," he said.

George Sharpe, far right, teaches a class at the Merrion Oil and Gas engineering mentorship program about evaluating oil wells. He started the program in
George Sharpe, far right, teaches a class at the Merrion Oil and Gas engineering mentorship program about evaluating oil wells. He started the program in 2000 and accepts up to 36 high school seniors or college students a year for the fall program. (Courtesy of George Sharpe)

Merrion said this is a way for the company to give back to the community.

"I like having the students, many of whom I've known all their lives, come to our office and experience the workplace environment," he said. "The fact that they make a formal presentation to me at the end of the program not only builds character, but emphasizes that good communication skills are just as important as some fancy-dancy analysis."

Sharpe said he started the program by teaching one student at a time and eventually it evolved to a 36-student class for the fall semester long course.

"Its fun. There's nothing that's more rewarding that to educate eager smart kids that want to learn," he said.

This past year students were from various high schools.

Completing the program from Farmington High School were; Bryce Bedah, Francine Briones, Luke Byrom, Bliss Campbell, Hance Clark, Nicholas Cross, Caysee Epaloose, Brian Farley, Tyler Kitseallyboy, Hyrum Lusk, Caroline Moss, Conner Rasmussen, Marcus Roberts, Ciara Romero, Emma Walsh, Kevin Weiss, and Sydnee Wells.

From Piedra Vista High School were; Tisha Clyde, Rebecca Fowler, Victoria Garcia, Elizabeth Graven, Alyx Horace, Joseph Ramalho, Sioux Rivera.

David Rodriquez, Tristen Goodwin and Reese Foutz participated from Kirtland Central High School.

Kassia Barber, Kayli Farmer, Alvin Harvey, Colton Kelley, Philip Layne, Austin Paris, Gary Pringle, and Thomas Schmidt participated from Aztec High School.

Merrion Oil & Gas plans to offer the program again in the fall of 2014. Interested students who will either be seniors at any high school in the county or who will be attending San Juan College should contact George Sharpe, Manager of Oil & Gas Investments, at 505-402-5798 or by email at gsharpe@merrion.bz.

Erny Zah is the business editor at The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4638 and ezah@daily-times.com. Follow him @ernyzah on Twitter.