Middle school students learn energy from experts

During Energy Week, middle school students learn about the oil and gas industry from experts in the field

James Fenton
Mary Keller, an engineering technician with XTO Energy, gives a presentation on Monday to eighth-grade students from Mesa View Middle School at Farmington Museum.

FARMINGTON — For the 12th year in a row, San Juan County students descended on Farmington Museum to learn about the oil and gas industry from leaders in the field.

During Energy Week, about 2,000 middle school students learn about regional geology, how companies hydraulically fracture the Mancos shale play to extract oil and gas in the San Juan Basin and other elements, techniques and equipment of the industry.

A series of presentations, activities and exhibits — hosted by producers such as BP, Merrion Oil & Gas Co., Logos Resources, Dugan Production and ConocoPhillips, along with San Juan College faculty — are aimed at educating the groups of eighth-grade students.

A different middle school and energy company participate each day during Energy Week, which began last week.

Farmington 's Mesa View Middle School and XTO Energy Inc. were up on Monday.

Mesa View Middle School eighth grader Tiffany Munguia, center, takes notes Monday during a presentation about the oil and gas industry at Farmington Museum. The presentation was part of Energy Week, which concludes Tuesday.

About 100 Mesa View students split into small groups. Half were outside in the museum parking lot to learn about oil-field equipment, such as separators and compressors, while other students toured the exhibit hall in the museum to learn about drilling techniques and the history of energy in the basin.

Outside, Daniel Carney, XTO Energy's completion foreman, stood beside a pump jack to show how the industry gets crude oil and natural gas out of the ground with older wells that lack the requisite pressure.

He pointed to a relatively small scale pump about 10 feet away and explained that its size isn't an indicator of its ability to pull hydrocarbons from the ground. He told the students the pump could lift the weight of two cars without trouble.

"It's simple, really," Carney said. "There's nothing to it."

At right, Daniel Carney, senior completion foreman with XTO Energy, talks with Mesa View Middle School students during an Energy Week presentation on Monday at Farmington Museum.

Mike Logan, XTO Energy senior production engineer, said his presentation on hydraulic fracturing garnered some astute questions, as well as some suspicious looks. But, he said, giving students a crash course on the energy industry remains a worthwhile endeavor.

"Every small group, you get about two or three really inquisitive minds asking questions," Logan said. "That's encouraging."

In the exhibit hall, Loron Ashcroft, an XTO Energy production engineer, stood before a full-color poster that showed a cross-section of the geologic strata of the San Juan Basin. He spoke about how operators use gamma rays to locate different hydrocarbons a mile underground.

At center, Baker Hughes sales representative Jason Thomas talks with Mesa View Middle School students on Monday during Energy Week at the Farmington Museum.

Eighth grader Cindy Lopez said while her stepfather works in the oil and gas industry, she is still learning about the complexity of fossil fuel extraction.

Lopez said the trip to the museum was her first brush with hydraulic fracturing. Learning how the industry breaks apart sedimentary shale to release natural gas and crude oil was a bit of a surprise, she said.

"I learned how they actually get the natural gas out of the ground and the machines they use to do it," Lopez said. "Some of it was surprising."

Energy Week concludes Tuesday.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.