Oil drilling simulator, one of the largest in the world, will be dedicated TODAY as part of UND Homecoming

Drilling & Completion Lab building will also house rare earth elements research

Members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission toured UND’s Drilling and Completions Lab and a pilot-scale plant to extract rare earth elements from coal. From left to right are Vamegh Rasouli, petroleum engineering chair; Harry Feilen, DRACOLA director; Brian Tande, CEM dean; Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring; Gov. Doug Burgum; and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

The University of North Dakota will hold a grand opening and dedication for one of the world’s largest oil drilling simulators at 2 p.m., TODAY, Thursday, Oct. 21 at 1822 Mill Road, Grand Forks. Tours of the lab, which is located in the former Minnkota Power Cooperative, will follow the ceremony. The simulator is part of the petroleum engineering department at the College of Engineering & Mines.

With the lab, UND now hosts one of the world’s largest full-scale oil drilling and completion labs.

The Drilling & Completion Laboratory (DRACOLA) building is also a research facility for the Rare Earth Elements Pilot Plant, which is conducting research using extracted rare earth elements from North Dakota lignite coal under a UND Institute for Energy Studies project with the U.S. Department of Energy, State and industry partners.

“This facility is an important part of our efforts to align our activities with the needs of North Dakota and this region,” said Brian Tande, dean of the College of Engineering & Mines. “DRACOLA will offer unique research and training capabilities to the oil and gas industry in the state, allowing them to increase production and operate more efficiently. The rare earth element extraction project has the potential to create an entirely new source of revenue in ND, in addition to addressing an important national security issue with the supply of these critical materials.”

“This $40 million experimental facility doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” said Vamegh Rasouli, Continental Resources Distinguished Professor of Petroleum Engineering and department chair. He added that UND’s petroleum engineering Ph.D. program is now in the top three in terms of student numbers in the United States.

Petroleum engineering students will be able to simulate general drilling and deep drilling, along with testing different rocks, including shale, which is found in the Bakken Oil Fields. They will also simulate oil reservoir conditions, including temperature, pressure and fluid flow. Doctoral students will perform research that benefits the state of North Dakota.

“The construction and opening of the rare earth elements pilot facility is an exciting achievement that has been built on five years of previous technology development,” said Dan Laudal, director of the Institute of Energy Studies. “Our team is very optimistic about the positive impact this technology can have on the North Dakota lignite industry, the State of North Dakota and the United States. UND is being recognized as a leader in rare earth elements research and we look forward to demonstrating our technology at the pilot scale and continuing our efforts towards commercialization in North Dakota.”

The North Dakota Oil & Gas Research Council and the North Dakota Industrial Commission voted to approve $2.78 million in financial support over three years. Additional funds are expected from industry and governmental research to support students and laboratory development.

“Without the support of the Research Council and the Industrial Commission, as well as the UND Energy & Environmental Research Center, it would be very difficult to continue all our programs,” Rasouli said. “All of this support and encouragement is key.” Our mission is to educate hands-on and practical petroleum engineers who can work in the state’s oil and gas industry with a minimum of on-the-job training. We also perform practical research to help industry solve drilling problems, mainly in the Bakken.”

UND has the state’s first petroleum engineering program, which began in 2010 in response to demand for engineers in the Bakken Oil fields. A doctoral program began in 2016 to fill oil and gas research needs. UND’s Energy & Environmental Research Center, which houses the State Energy Research Center, supports many of the petroleum engineering students by offering graduate research assistantships, as well as hiring graduates.

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Image captions:

State Industrial Commission (4mb): Members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission last week toured UND’s Drilling and Completions Lab and a pilot-scale plant to extract rare earth elements from coal. From left to right are Vamegh Rasouli, petroleum engineering chair; Harry Feilen, DRACOLA director; Brian Tande, CEM dean; Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring; Gov. Doug Burgum; and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

Drilling and completion lab aerial view (4mb) : The Drilling and Completions Lab enables industry to test new drilling techniques while giving UND students real-world experience. From the left are Jake Fladeland; Mouna Keltoum Benabid, Ph.D. student, Algeria; Harry Feilen, Drilling & Completion Lab director; Vasanth Gokapai, Ph.D. student, Vijayawada, India; and Oscar Suarez. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

Full-scale pilot plant (4mb): A pilot-scale plant to extract rare earth elements from North Dakota lignite coal could create a new industry for the state by replacing imported minerals for civil and military applications that are becoming more scarce and more expensive. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.