Meet Mike J. Smith, Spring 2010 BP-Vann Visiting Fellow

Carol Peters ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Top: A West Virginia oil field in the 1860's; bottom; a recent image showing production in 6,000 feet water. (Photos: Courtesy of Mike Smith)Mike Smith has traveled and lived all over the world during his long career with BP, and this year he added Princeton to the list of places where he has worked and taught. During the spring semester Smith brought his vast expertise to PEI as a BP-Vann Visiting Fellow.

Smith, who is from Bedfordshire, England worked with BP for 39 years. He was previously BP’s Vice President of Reservoir Management and Segment Reserves Authority with responsibility for all technical elements of Reserves and Resource Estimation and Reserves Reporting Compliance. In this joint capacity he supported business units in the generation of production and reserve growth options from new and existing fields, while simultaneously understanding, protecting and optimizing the existing production base.

PEI News speaks to Mike Smith to learn more about his semester as a BP-Vann Fellow and the course he is teaching.

What factors influenced your decision to come to Princeton as a BP-Vann Visiting Fellow, and what do you hope to accomplish while you are here?

I have enjoyed teaching as a visiting industry lecturer for the past 10 years in the Netherlands and in France. When presented with the opportunity to visit Princeton this semester as a BP-Vann Fellow, I welcomed the prospect of teaching a graduate seminar in my field of expertise of Reservoir Management.

While at Princeton, I have also attended a number of lectures on “Oil, Energy and the Middle East” and on the “History and Society of Saudi Arabia.” Having lived in the Middle East for a good part of my career with BP, I found these lectures captured many of the complexities of this region. I know first hand how these can profoundly impact and shape the Oil Industry.

Please describe the course you are teaching.

ENV 531: “Topics in Energy and the Environment: Making the Most of Scarce Hydrocarbon Resources” explores the science, technology and business of oil & gas extraction. In particular, the course focuses on the impacts of global policies on production practices in light of today’s environmental and sustainability concerns.

Although the course does not aim to turn students into petroleum engineers, it offers them an insider’s perspective on the steps involved in making informed development decisions. Students learn how investment risks can be assessed using science and engineering principles when interpreting often sparsely populated data sets.

The course reviews strategies used by the industry to develop in technologically challenging environments such as deep-water sites, the arctic or the desert. For example, enhanced drilling and production design as well as innovations in technology and operations assist the industry in optimizing economic returns, minimizing environmental impacts while ensuring a safe recovery process.

The course offers a perspective on the industry’s evolution, its response to demand for secure, ever-increasing supplies whilst running safe and environmentally responsible operations. The course also considers perceptions of the oil industry by Governments, Energy Ministries, Banks and others.

What are the most important ideas you strive to communicate to your students?

Working in Industry on practical engineering problems is commonly depicted as low-tech and lacking technological innovations. I hope to dispel this idea. Through my 39 years as an engineer at BP, I have found many opportunities to develop new technologies relevant to the oil industry while living and experiencing many different cultures around the world.

Many of the challenges faced by engineers involved in oil and gas exploration are not unique to the oil industry. It is my goal to convey that the topics covered in the course have broad applicability to other industries.

Effective management of risk and uncertainty lies at the heart of any successful oil and gas company. One of the key skills required to effectively work in industry, and one I wish to teach my class of students at Princeton, is having the ability to develop pragmatic engineering solutions. These solutions acknowledge what we can and cannot control or modify, identify the cost of the risks involved and evaluate whether a project should proceed or not.

BP-Vann Visiting Fellows is named as a tribute to BP’s most renowned exploration scientist, Ian Vann. The BP-Vann Visiting Fellows Program gives BP’s most talented and fast-rising executives the opportunity to explore the frontiers of knowledge in science, engineering, and public policy while tapping into the vast resources of Princeton University. The program was funded in 2006 with a $1.2 million gift to PEI from BP.

While at Princeton, visiting fellows have the opportunity to work closely with distinguished Princeton scholars and researchers, as well as Princeton undergraduate and graduate students. The program opens the door for an on-going exchange and future collaboration in areas of common interest.

The program greatly enriches discussions of complex energy and environment-related issues cutting across multiple disciplines.

In addition, the BP-Vann Visiting Fellows Program expands on BP’s commitment, along with that of Ford, since 2000 to support the Carbon Mitigation Initiative program at Princeton. CMI faculty and research affiliates are addressing global climate change and developing low-carbon energy sources.

The first BP-Vann Visiting Fellow was Ian R. Vann, who was in residence at PEI during the winter of 2007 and 2008.