Getting Paid To Learn! Life as A Petroleum Engineering Intern

Swanson River Sunrise

Can you picture working a week on week off schedule, getting paid to learn hands on information in your major, and working in a beautiful National Wildlife Refuge? This was my experience this summer as a summer intern for Hilcorp Alaska, in Swanson River Oilfield inside Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

My name Is Josh McNeal and I am a Petroleum Engineer major who is currently in their 4th semester of study here at UAF.

So how did I get the internship?

Although getting an internship is very unlikely as a freshman, it is still possible! The company that I ended up working for came to UAF looking to hire specifically freshman petroleum engineer students. In order to get an interview, I submitted my high school transcript, ACT scores, and my resume. Based on these three things, I was granted an interview. The interview process was very straightforward. As always for interviews, I was dressed in a full suit, face freshly shaved, hair just cut, and teeth sparkling. During the interview we just went over my resume and my accomplishments as well as previous work experience. The interview was quick and fun. A few weeks later I got the call and was awarded the job!

Who did I work for and where?

The company that I worked for is called Hilcorp. It is one of the largest independent oil and gas producers in the United States, and is headquartered in Houston, Texas. Hilcorp made their first appearance in Alaska in 2011 with the purchase of many assets from Chevron. Since then they have purchased many other assets within Alaska, and have grown their operations significantly. My work location this summer was Swanson River Oil and Gas Field. Swanson River was the first major oil discovery in Alaska, and many people argue that this discovery ushered Alaska into statehood. Swanson River Oil and Gas Field sits directly next to the Swanson River within the beautiful and pristine Kenai National Wildlife refuge, 60 miles south of Anchorage near Sterling, Alaska. Almost every day of work, I saw black bears, moose, and coyotes. It was absolutely amazing to work in such a beautiful place.

What did I do during my internship?

So now you know who I worked for, and where I worked, you are probably curious what I actually did for work. Since I had just finished up my first year, and had taken only an intro engineering class, and had no industry experience, they started me working in the field where I could get my hands dirty. My first four days were spent in the instrument shop where I rebuilt pressure regulators. This was dirty and tedious work but I enjoyed it at the same time.

One type of regulator I rebuilt.
Another type of regulator I rebuilt.

After proving myself in the instrument shop, I moved into the field with the operators to learn daily functions, well testing, bringing new wells on, and how to deal with problems. As I learned more and more, I began to take on rate add projects, and coordinate specific projects. I also got to do pipeline surveys, cost analysis, and well tests. Once I had learned enough, I was sent off on my own. The last 4 weeks of my internship, I often operated by myself. I was in charge of operating approximately 15 wells, 5 of which were rod pumps, 4 gathering stations, shipping pumps, flares, settling tanks, and the main oil line heater.
Standing next to an oil well.

Standing next to a rod pump.

Me standing by the drill Rig Saxon 169.

Pipeline survey with the lead operator.

Standing next to the ATV used for pipeline surveys.

Shutting the swab valve on a gas well to soap it.

Releasing pressure from the well getting ready to remove the cap to soap the well.

Since I had spent all summer learning to be an operator, I asked to return for a week over Christmas and work for people who may have been on vacation with family, and allow me to learn the field when the temperature was below freezing. This was an awesome experience that I greatly enjoyed.

 A rod pump during winter.

 The original discovery well in Swanson River. This well helped usher Alaska into statehood.

Morning sunrise over the field.

Let me take a selfie!

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