UW program will prepare a new generation of landmen for the booming energy industry

Feb 1, 2013

University of Wyoming just initiated a new program out of its burgeoning School of Energy Resources. The professional land management concentration will train landmen. Those are people who look for untapped oil and gas and other resources and negotiate contracts between their owners and companies that want to develop them.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports that the program is just in time.

[sound from meeting]

IRINA ZHOROV: At a recent informational meeting about the new land management program, director Don Roth, stood in front of the nine young men who showed up and tried to sell them on it.

[sound from meeting]

The program, which is actually a concentration within the School of Energy Resources, is brand new this semester. It’s a multidisciplinary hodge-podge of classes like geology, petroleum engineering, accounting, law, and hands-on internships and seminars that will train students to be land managers, or landmen.

Travis Brammer, from Sterling, Colorado, was one of the students at that meeting.

TRAVIS BRAMMER: From where I’m from landmen always have kind of a bad name to them, it’s kind of like a used car salesman or something, like they’re just trying to swindle you into getting the land.

ZHOROV: But his advisor told him that’s not entirely true, so he’s thinking about it. He wasn’t the only student to make the used car salesman analogy and he wasn’t the only one to stay interested despite the analogy.

That’s because the profession, through its accrediting agency, the American Association of Professional Landmen, is trying hard to shed that reputation…and UW’s program will help them do that. This program will only be the 7th in North America, the 6th in the US, accredited by the AAPL, and it’s the newest, most state of the art program. It also has a very Western specialization.     

Here’s Roth:

DON ROTH: In particular we looked at training our students to understand split estate issues, where you have public lands, Native American lands, private lands, different entities that own particular areas and this creates a very complex situation.

ZHOROV: Wyoming state president of the AAPL, Marc Strahn, is a landman and he worked with Roth and SER to plan the new program and develop its curriculum. He says older landmen often either learned on the job or apprenticed.

STRAHN: There’s this group of landmen that were taught in the old style, with 30+ years, but that group is very small. And then the group from, say, 30 years to 5 years of experience, there’s very very few people out there anymore to even do that. And then there’s this mass new entrance into the profession in the last 5 to 8 years. And it’s a totally different thing, and the university program is so important to that.

ZHOROV: It’s different because like the work of mining and oil and gas development, the work of the landman has gotten so much more complex. Strahn has been in the business for over 3 decades.

STRAHN: When I started we didn’t work with computers. We hand drew things on maps and now everything is done off computers. And what the current day students are taking is so highly technological now that it makes it even more important to have that advanced education and learning.  

ZHOROV: He says you can still learn by apprenticing, but graduates from programs like UW’s have a higher level of education, will have had professional ethics and law classes, and are somewhat policed by AAPL if they become members, which they’re more likely to do. At the meeting, Roth said they could even join now.

Another student at the meeting, Fred Eden from Powell, is already convinced.

FRED EDEN: With the professional certifications that are coming and the shift in the career field from a fly by night operation, just  whoever could just figure out how to get the rights, to a much more of a  professional certified…vast improvement of what’s been happening in the past.

ZHOROV: For yet other students, though, it might be the profession’s other attributes that hook them.

TRUMAN MARRAMA: The job stability is one thing me and my parents definitely looked at, and I’ve always been interested in energy, I’ve always enjoyed rocks…I never really thought about making a profession out of it.

ZHOROV: That’s Truman Marrama, from Lakewood, Colorado.

MARRAMA: A lot of us are really excited for the travel, the amount of work we would have, and the experiences we’d have to do it….it’s pretty rare and exciting.

ZHOROV: According to Strahn and Roth, technological advances in energy development revitalized the need for landmen, and it’s now a job that looks steadily into the future.   

Here’s Strahn again:

STRAHN: That stability by unlocking the technique of horizontal drilling has really caused a lot of these companies to come up and work all around the country and therefor has really stabilized our profession. I would say it’s a great time right now for students to come into the profession whereas if you asked me that 10 years ago I may not have given you that same answer. 

ZHOROV: Roth says they already have 9 students in the program and they anticipate another 10 to 15 next semester.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Irina Zhorov.