UT Austin Takes 1st Place at Imperial Barrel Award Regional Competition

A team of geoscience students from UT Austin has taken first prize for the Gulf Coast region of the Imperial Barrel Award and will compete in the global round April 8.

A team of geoscience students from the University of Texas at Austin has taken first prize in a regional round of the Imperial Barrel Award, an international competition hosted by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG). Their winnings included a $3,000 prize for the UT-AAPG Student Chapter and a chance to represent the Gulf Coast region on April 8 in the global competition against the best teams from the remaining 11 national and international regions.

The winning team members, all students in the Jackson School of Geosciences, are Ashley Bens, Michael Fairbanks, Justin Fitch, Erin Miller and Ben Siks.

“From an employability perspective, these five students went from strong contenders to the top of the class on every petroleum recruiters list,” said Chris Zahm, research associate at the Jackson School and faculty advisor for the team. “This is the top line of their resume.”

Each spring, Zahm teaches the course “Petroleum Basin Evaluation.” The five students selected to participate in the competition were voted the best candidates by the entire class. When students start the class, they have little to no experience working with well logs and geophysical data (see definitions below).

The IBA Gulf Coast region winning team: Chris Zahm (faculty advisor), Michael Fairbanks, Ashley Bens, Ben Siks, Erin Miller, and Justin Fitch. Photo by Mary Broussard.
The IBA Gulf Coast region winning team: Chris Zahm (faculty advisor), Michael Fairbanks, Ashley Bens, Ben Siks, Erin Miller, and Justin Fitch. Photo by Mary Broussard.

“I find the teaching experience to be very gratifying because I get to see the students go through an important phase change in their learning-evolving from a student of geology to one that comprehends the impact of their study to the world economic stage,” said Zahm.

AAPG’s Imperial Barrel Award Program (IBA) is an annual basin/prospect evaluation competition for geoscience graduate students from universities around the world. University teams compete to win funds dedicated to graduate student petroleum geoscience education via their local AAPG Student Chapter. The program is rigorous and contributes to AAPG’s mission of promoting petroleum geoscience training and advancing the careers of geoscience students.

In this global competition, university teams analyze a dataset (geology, geophysics, land, economics, production infrastructure, and other relevant materials) in the eight weeks prior to their local competition. Each team delivers their results in a 25 minute presentation to a panel of industry experts. Students have the chance to use real technology on a real dataset, receive the feedback from an industry panel, have the opportunity to impress potential employers in the audience, and the chance to win cash awards for their schools. The industry panel of judges selects the winning team on the basis of the technical quality, clarity and originality of its presentation.

Definitions: Well logs are detailed records of the kinds of geological formations cut through by a well, derived from core samples retrieved from the well or from instruments lowered into the well. Geophysical data includes seismic images of the subsurface, collected with instruments that send and receive sound waves.

For more information on the Jackson School, contact J.B. Bird at jbird@jsg.utexas.edu, 512-232-9623.