The School of Petroleum Engineering’s origins can be traced to research conducted at UNSW as early as the 1950s. In 1958 the School of Mining Engineering established a Department of Fuel Technology, which was transferred to the School of Chemical Engineering in 1963.
At the time, the University was looking to establish a postgraduate program in petroleum technology, similar to the specialised courses that were being run in the United States of America. Although it would be many years before UNSW offered a dedicated petroleum engineering program, the School of Chemical Engineering’s facilities and expertise in this field slowly grew and by the early 1980s several of its programs included a petroleum reservoir engineering component.
In 1985 the Centre for Petroleum Engineering Studies was established in the Faculty of Applied Science, as a joint initiative of industry and the Schools of Mining Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Applied Geology. A Bachelor of Petroleum Engineering was introduced in 1986, the first undergraduate degree of its kind in Australia and the world’s first petroleum engineering course to be accredited by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (London). Since its introduction, the program has included comprehensive studies in geology and geophysics, as well as specialised petroleum and chemical engineering subjects.
The Centre’s research activities in the 1980s included projects supported by government and industry, such as oil recovery from Australian fields and methane drainage from coal seams. An international reputation developed as the Centre’s staff advised institutions in Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and Indonesia that were looking to develop their own petroleum studies programs.
In 1991 the Centre participated in the establishment of the Australian Petroleum CRC (APCRC) and a decade later the Centre (by then a School) became involved in the APCRC’s GEODISC program. Since 2005 it has been a major contributor of economic and reservoir engineering research to the CO2CRC. UNSW chemical and petroleum engineers collaborate closely with the CO2CRC to develop technologies and techniques for the capture and geological storage of carbon dioxide, with a view to minimising carbon emissions.
The Centre was transferred to the Faculty of Engineering in 1997 when the Faculty of Applied Science was disestablished. The following year it became the School of Petroleum Engineering (SCOPE).
In 1999 SCOPE launched a very successful online distance learning program in postgraduate coursework. The program, designed for industry professionals who are unable to attend classes on campus, draws participants from around the world and has played a major role in establishing the School as a significant international force in petroleum education. SCOPE also offers several research degrees and a continuing-education program focusing on environmental issues and emerging technologies.
The School’s research reflects Australia’s unique environment and addresses the recovery problems found in hydrocarbon reserves. School facilities include laboratories for rock and fracture mechanics, core drilling fluid and cementing, computational modelling and borehole stability analysis. As well as collaborating with the School of Chemical Engineering and the CO2CRC, SCOPE researchers work with the School of Mining Engineering to investigate the potential gas yields of Australia’s extensive coal deposits. Further collaborative links have been forged with the Australian National University, resulting in cutting-edge activities in the high-resolution imaging and modelling of porous rock microstructure. This partnership led to the establishment of Australia’s first high-tech petroleum engineering spin-out company, DigitalCore Laboratories (now Lithicon). In 2012 DigitalCore won a Eureka Prize for the Commercialisation of Innovation.
SCOPE maintains relationships with Australia’s oil and gas industry through sponsored scholarships and work experience programs. The School’s staff have also consulted to industries and governments throughout the Asia-Pacific region in areas such as field development geology, reservoir characterisation and engineering, well-test analysis, and conventional and unconventional oil and gas development.