Chevron introduces engineering design students to sustainability in natural gas

Student projects focus on improving practices and standards for the Marcellus Shale industry

Sven Bilén, head of SEDTAPP and professor of engineering design and aerospace and electrical engineering, addresses students during the fall 2016 EDSGN 100 project kick-off presentation. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – As part of the Appalachian Basin, Pennsylvania is located above one of the most mature areas of oil production and also Marcellus Shale natural gas development. The abundance of these resources creates the potential to fuel the United States for many years and push us closer to energy independence. But, with this potential comes the need for continued emphasis on sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Chevron, the second-largest oil and gas company headquartered in the United States, understands this need. Two of the company’s key values focus on ingenuity and protecting people and the environment. Because of this, Chevron is constantly seeking new opportunities and out-of-the-ordinary solutions to improve upon industry practices and responsibly develop resources for future generations.

To introduce Penn State’s first-year engineering students to the importance of sustainability and environmental protection, relating to fossil fuel extraction and consumption, Chevron has asked students enrolled in fall 2016 sections of EDSGN 100: Introduction to Engineering Design to improve upon some common industry practices.

“We are introducing students to some of the challenges and opportunities we face on a daily basis,” Jeff Hooper, program field adviser at Chevron, said. “We are asking the students to consider all the tradeoffs, keeping sustainability and stewardship of the environment at the top of their minds.”

For the project, student teams have the opportunity to choose from four ventures that focus on water and waste stream.

The water storage project asks students to design an above-ground tank system that has the capacity to store at least 3 million gallons of water on-site. Considerations must be made for sustainability and environment, safety, cost, schedule/cycle time, footprint size, load bearing and settlement, ease of fill, corrosion, constructability, transportation, materials and other potential uses for the tanks during and after their lifespan.

Another project focuses on waste stream and challenges students to discover how drill cuttings may be reused or repurposed. Drill cuttings include rock, water and a small percentage of drilling fluid residue. They are typically taken off-site and disposed of in landfills. Students must consider sustainability and environment, regulations, safety, cost, schedule/cycle time and transportation of the material.

A second waste stream project tasks students with discovering a way to reuse, repurpose or recycle well pad liners. When a well is drilled, the surface of the pad is lined with a 60-mil, or .06 inch, high-density polyethylene liner. Due to heavy human and machine traffic, common industry practice includes using a liner once and cutting the material up onsite for disposal. Students are once again asked to consider sustainability and environment, regulations, safety, cost, schedule/cycle time and transportation of the material in their designs.

The final project asks students to focus on water treatment. Students must devise an innovative way to treat produced (brine) water onsite in order to produce marketable byproducts. After a well begins to produce gas, it also produces nearly 40 barrels of brine water a day per well. Typically, this brine water has a total dissolved solids (TDS) concentration of approximately 40,000 parts per million (ppm). Dissolved solids include mobile charged ions such as salts and minerals. An average pad may contain 10 wells, resulting in approximately 400 barrels of brine water per day. Currently, common practice is to regularly haul this water off-site for treatment or injection into an approved disposal well.

Once student teams choose a project, they begin working on the key deliverables, which include a: technical report containing items such as a team-generated definition of sustainability, rationale for the opportunity identified, description of alternative concepts and their evaluation and CAD drawings detailing the design; systems diagram; complete list of design concepts; and model of the system. These deliverables are submitted to professors and instructors at various times throughout the semester.

Hooper said exposing students to client-based projects like these, early in their academic career, allows them to better understand how to apply concepts learned in class to create quality systems and products. By sponsoring projects, Hooper said Chevron, and companies like it, are helping to bridge the gap between engineering concepts and the application of engineering principles.

“It’s important for students to realize that the methodologies they learn in the classroom are truly applicable in the real world,” he said. “By working together closely, industry and academia are able to learn from each other and better prepare for the future.”

Final projects will be on display at the College of Engineering Design Showcase, held Dec. 8, 2016, at the Bryce Jordan Center.

To aid with the project, New Pig Corporation donated well mats for student use. 

Chevron works to meet the world's growing demand for energy by exploring for oil and natural gas; refining and marketing gasoline; producing chemicals and geothermal power and more.

For more information on EDSGN 100 projects, visit

Last Updated November 04, 2016