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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

Southampton students crowd-funded their way to international competition

Published: 25 April 2016
AAPG Imperial Barrel Award

A team of five University of Southampton undergraduates competed in this year’s American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Imperial Barrel Award, thanks to public donations made to their crowd-funding campaign. The students raised £4,000 to cover travel to the European heats in Prague last month.

Despite not placing in the top three, the team see the experience as invaluable, having developed skills in team working, presenting, and analysing vast datasets.

“We also obtained professional contacts and gained useful insight into the petroleum industry and potentially our future career paths,” said team member Vanessa Phan. “It’s definitely a good way of being seen as doing something above and beyond your degree course.”

Each team competing for the AAPG Imperial Barrel Award is given a series of datasets from a particular region of the world to analyse for petroleum potential. They then have to communicate their findings to a panel of judges and are assessed on technical quality and presentation skills.

To represent the University in the international competition, the team first had to fend off other University of Southampton teams. Unlike most other institutes taking part, the University holds its own competition as part of an undergraduate module linked to the competition, judged by lecturers and industry professionals.

“Through our studies we address different elements of the petroleum system one at a time,” said team member Chris Standley. “The difference with Barrel is that it’s one holistic dataset; you have to analyse every part of the petroleum system rather than think about it in individual tasks. We were given well log, seismic and geochemical data for the Taranaki Basin, offshore New Zealand.”

They delegated tasks according to their specialisms; David Allsebrook, James Panton and Cally Spendlove are fourth year geophysicists and Vanessa Phan and Chris Standley are fourth year geologists. And just as a company prospecting for oil would, they analysed their data for evidence of deposits that could be extracted. They all said that they could not have done it without the full complement of skillsets, and that their ‘eureka’ moments came when they pooled their respective information – which emphasised to them the importance of communication.

As winners of the University’s internal competition, the team progressed to the European division in Prague, where they were judged by six industry experts, pitted against other teams from universities across Europe. Of the 18 teams competing this year, Delft University of Technology emerged victorious, closely followed by Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Manchester in second and third place, respectively. The winning team will go on to compete in the world final in Calgary, Canada, in June.

“The experience of the whole module was incredibly fulfilling and we would highly recommend competing in the AAPG Imperial Barrel Award competition to anyone who has the chance,” they said.

Professor Tim Minshull, who is a member of the University’s Southampton Marine & Maritime Institute (SMMI), travelled with them to Prague as their adviser. “The competition is a great showcase for our students and our winning 2011 team still features in the AAPG video that is shown during awards ceremony,” he said. “Previously AAPG have covered all the costs from industry sponsorship, but this year much less sponsorship was available, so we were very grateful for support from colleagues, alumni and friends that made participation possible.”

For further information about the competition, see here.

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