Jorge Pi

UT and the National Autonomous University of Mexico signed an agreement that seeks to pursue research in areas of mutual interest and to facilitate the transfer of energy expertise between the schools, according to Jorge Piñon, director of the UT Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program.

Provost Gregory Fenves visited Mexico City earlier this month to sign the agreement, which the University hopes will strengthen academic bridges between the two institutions, according to a press release from the University. 

The collaboration between students at the two universities will benefit engineering research at UT, said Carlos Torres-Verdin, petroleum and geosystems engineering professor.

“This is a very exciting and important opportunity within the college of engineering because [the National Autonomous University of Mexico] is the best university in Mexico in many areas of research,” Torres-Verdin said. “They have excellent students come here.”

The collaboration in energy research will be vital for the success of new governmental reforms in Mexico, which will open the energy industry to foreign investment, Torres-Verdin said. 

“Mexico does not have the volume of energy professionals needed to supply the big demand when foreign companies land in Mexico to start petroleum exploration,” Torres-Verdin said. “This agreement with [the National Autonomous University of Mexico] is important because it will facilitate the development of professionals that Mexico needs to successfully develop its energy resources.”

Cooperation agreements alone will not ensure that Mexican students will come to UT because tuition fees remain out of reach for many Mexican citizens, according to Joshua Christopher Bautista-Anguiano, a petroleum engineering graduate student who attended the Mexican university. He said the Mexican government offers scholarships, but the state only covers up to 20 percent of a student’s tuition costs.

“The main thing that students in Mexico are concerned about is tuition fees.” Bautista-Anguiano said. “I know a lot of people who would have liked to go abroad. Either they did not have enough money, or they did not have enough scholarships. I know the agreements are there, but if they cannot find a sponsor, they cannot come.”

Sharing energy expertise will also help alleviate environmental concerns regarding fracking, a method used to drill through rocks for natural gas, in Mexico because it will make the shale oil extraction process safer, Piñon said.

“It makes sense for UT to exchange information with Mexico because we have learned quite a bit about fracking,” Piñon said. “This way they can do a much better job — a much safer job.”

Kay Bailey Hutchison, former senator and president of the Texas Exes, spoke at the KBH Center Symposium Friday. The symposium offered an interdisciplinary take on Mexican energy issues, exploring UT’s potential role in drilling opportunities in Mexico.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

UT energy researchers and students will help discover new drilling opportunities in Mexico when the country opens up its industry to foreign investment in June, according to Jorge Piñon, interim director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy.

Piñon spoke at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business Symposium on Friday. The symposium involved representatives from geology schools across Texas, executive boards of energy companies, the U.S. government and Mexican environmental organizations.

UT’s legal agreements with Mexican universities will help fill the gaps in energy expertise that could stifle the success of the energy reforms, Piñon said.

“About two weeks ago, Provost Fenves was in Mexico City, and UT did sign three agreements with the National Autonomous University of Mexico,” Piñon said. “One agreement was a cooperation agreement on energy between the Cockrell School, the Jackson School and UNAM. We, the University of Texas, [are] moving forward in trying to establish academic bridges.”

Reforms in the past two years mark a stark shift in Mexico’s previous energy policies, which allowed only the national oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, to drill in Mexico, according to Darcia Datshkovsky, public affairs and energy and earth resources graduate student.

“Until the reforms happened, Mexico had the most closed energy market in [the] whole world — more closed than even North Korea and Cuba,” Datshkovsky said. “Everywhere from production to distribution to refineries, there was absolutely no private investment. It was not just that it was not happening; it was forbidden by law.” 

Scott Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, said opening energy investment to foreign companies holds promise because Mexico has the third largest reserves of shale oil and gas in the world, and most of it remains unexplored.

“In Texas, we have drilled over 1 million wells since oil was discovered around a century ago,” Tinker said. “In a larger area in Mexico, there are only 50,000 wells — exploratory and developmental combined.”

Opening up the energy sector could be risky for the Mexican government and its citizens, according to Melinda Taylor, executive director of the KBH Energy Center.

“The Mexican government is trying to strike a balance to ensure that even with foreign investment, they will get to keep the revenue they need and protect their environment and workforce,” Taylor said. 

Taylor said the symposium offered an interdisciplinary take on Mexican energy issues.

“The idea was to bring together people who would not ordinarily have been in the same room to discuss these issues,” Taylor said. “[Our program] is the first to consider the geopolitical perspective and the potential pitfalls for Mexico.”