Along Marco Polo’s Footsteps: Discovering the Chinese Oil Industry

Last year a group of petroleum engineering students at Imperial College, London, came up with an ambitious idea—a field trip to China. We were curious to see, understand, and appreciate how a different culture and economy has succeeded to become a competitive and modern country. Our choice was quite logical given the fact that China is also one of the major players in the world oil and gas industry. We decided to meet petroleum engineering students at China Petroleum U. and visit Shengli oil field, the second largest onshore oil field in China and operated by Sinopec.

Needless to say, there was a huge financial and logistical challenge in organizing the trip. The SPE London Section newsletter advertised our trip and helped us find sponsors. The trip was made possible by contributions from several international companies (Chevron, Total, Schlumberger, Amerada Hess, BP, and ExxonMobil), while Chinese national companies (Sinopec and China Natl. Petroleum Corp.) took care of logistics and operational activities on the ground.

The first part of this journey was dedicated to the capital city of Beijing, headquarters of all the national and private oil and service companies in China. We visited a Schlumberger research center, the Beijing Geoscience Center. Graduates with 1 to 2 years of experience in the company made presentations and reviewed their projects. We were impressed by the high technical content and the excellent level of research and facilities.

After Beijing, we visited the city of Dongying in Shandong Province. We visited the campus of China Petroleum U. and its research laboratories. The school is modern and offers distance-learning programs for people living in more-remote parts of the country. We looked forward to meeting the students, sharing with them everything about our education system, our experiences at Imperial College, and our cultures from all over the world. We were also keen to learn from them, and share ideas, knowing that they will be our future competitors, partners, and colleagues in the challenging industry we were about to join.

We spent 2 days at the Shengli oil field, which is a heavy-oil reservoir currently undergoing a successful enhanced-oil-recovery program, including polymer flooding and steam injection. Considering that heavy oil is a hot topic in the oil industry worldwide, the Shengli oilfield experience was particularly appreciated by the students.

The China trip was a great opportunity for us to learn more about the oil industry in a complex cultural context and about a country that is becoming increasingly important in all matters related to the global oil and gas industry.


Posing at Tiananmen Square.