Energy Club’s Next Generation Program – District High Schools in the Mid West

Mitsui E&P Australia (MEPAU) has sponsored the Next Generation Schools Program at Dongara District High School since 2018 and in 2019 started sponsoring the program at Jurien Bay District High School. Carnamah District High School joined the program in 2020.

Run by the Energy Club of Western Australia, the Next Generation program educates students about the diverse range of careers available in the oil and gas industry.

Over 650 students from 18 schools participated in the 2019 program. Dongara District High School and Jurien Bay District High Schools were two of only three regional schools involved.

Kate McCarthy, Club Manager at Energy Club WA, says the sponsorship makes it possible to include Dongara, Jurien Bay and Carnamah.

Dongara District High School Next Generation Program class of 2018

“MEPAU covers the cost of running the program in the Mid West. Mentors need to travel up to Dongara, Jurien Bay and Carnamah throughout the year, and students travel down to Perth in September,” she says.

Program Coordinator Hamish Smith says he has had a long and enjoyable career as a Facilities and Development Engineer in the oil and gas industry and he’s enthusiastic about sharing his career experiences with students from Mid West high schools.

“In Dongara we deliver the program to the Year 10 science class, and at Jurien Bay we work with both Year 8’s and Year 10’s,” he says. “It’s not long until they leave school and they’re starting to think about what they’ll do afterwards. We let them know that right on their doorstep is an industry they might not have thought about.”

The program includes four sessions at the school followed by an expo in Perth for selected students.

Session 1

The first session is an introduction to the oil and gas industry. Students learn about energy and why it’s needed in modern society. Unlike their city peers, Mid West students also go on a field trip to see where oil and gas comes from.

Hamish Smith says, “We want students to understand that very close to their home there’s an active gas field producing gas for the Perth market. I tell them about the various parts of a gas field, and we visit both MEPAU’s Waitsia site and Triangle Energy’s Arrowsmith Stabilisation Plant.”

Students see the wellheads and associated piping, and can hear gas passing through the wellhead chokes. They also see the gas gathering hub where Waitsia-01 and Senecio-03 flowlines are joined into a common pipeline.

From Arrowsmith they can see the Cliff Head Platform, which is 10km out to sea.

Students visit the Dongara airport to view the helicopter used to service the Cliff Head Platform.

Finally the class visit MEPAU’s Xyris Production Facility.

The students ask a lot of questions, including:

“What happens if the pipe leaks?”

“How much gas is produced every day?”

“What opportunities will arise in the future for us?”

The field trip is reportedly thoroughly enjoyed by the class and teachers.

Session 2

In the second session students are introduced to people who work in the industry.

Staff involved previously included Nina Lowes, Senior Petroleum Engineer at Mitsui E&P Australia, and Rob Towner, Managing Director at Triangle Energy.

Nina said she talked about her career, what she studied at university and what she loved about her job when she first started out.

She said, “The students were really engaged. They asked more questions than I expected. It was great to see so much enthusiasm. Hopefully I gave them something they can take up and go on with.”

In the afternoon the students participated in some fun yet instructive experiments.

Next Generation tour to Gas Gathering Hub - Petroleum Club's Next Generation Program
Next Generation visit Xyris Production Facility - Petroleum Club's Next Generation Program
Next Generation tour Xyris Production Facility

Permeability vs Porosity

Students learned the difference between porosity (how much open space is contained within a rock) and permeability (how easily fluid can travel through a porous rock).

Students had to try to suck hot chocolate through both Tim Tams and Aero Bars.

Although Aero Bars are full of holes, making them very porous, they are not permeable, so it’s not possible to suck hot chocolate through an Aero Bar.

Tim Tams, on the other hand, are both porous and permeable, so it’s very easy to suck hot chocolate through the biscuits.

Dongara District High School Next Generation Program learning about porosity and permeability
Dongara District High School Next Generation Program learning about earth compression and core samples
Looking at effects of compression on the earth

Students put a variety of different spreads between sandwich bread. Vegemite was ‘oil’.

Afterwards they put the whole loaf back together, put it back into the bag then compressed it to about a third of the original height.

The task was to core the bread ‘earth’ with straws to see if they could find the ‘oil’ in the core samples.

Afterwards, the compressed loaf was cut in half to observe the effects of uplifting.

Perforating in a well bore vs barefoot completion

Barefoot completion means there’s casing to a certain depth, then the rest is an open hole.

Students pushed straws through sponges contained within plastic bags filled with water.

The straws were either perforated or not perforated to mimic the two types of well bore.

Students had to squeeze the bag to test the amount of fluid coming out.

Nina Lowe says, “This wasn’t a very rigorous experiment because the amount of pressure applied to the bag had a big impact on the results, but the students had fun and learned about the general concept.”

Session 3

In the third session the students learn about the lifecycle of an oil and gas project, including the employment possibilities at each stage.

Phases include planning, exploration, drilling, development, production, transport, decommissioning and rehabilitation.

Hamish Smith says, “At each stage there are different employment opportunities. You don’t have to go to university to get into the oil and gas industry, you can also do a trade. There might only be one engineer but there are a lot of other tradespeople involved at each stage of the lifecycle.”

Session 4

In the fourth session the students participate in a role playing game.

Hamish Smith says, “Students pretend they’re running an oil company, so they have to make decisions about how to develop a project.”

Students are required to think about both energy usage and the cost of energy along the whole chain, from grass roots to end user. They also need to think about the staff they’ll need to work in their company.

Hamish Smith says, “Students buy and sell articles and try to make a small profit. They have fun but they also develop negotiation skills.

“Students are given a certain amount of money to start with then they have to work out the value of their business after 40 minutes of trading.

“In the game students own different types of companies and they need to find people that would enhance their company. If they are an exploration company, they need drillers and geologists. If they are a production company, they need operators.

“They ask questions like, “Does my company need a lawyer?” We tell them whether or not their particular type of company needs a lawyer, as many of them don’t.”

“It gives us the opportunity to talk about careers. We are having fun and promoting our industry, and giving the students an idea of what opportunities they might pursue when they leave school.”


A Student Expo Day is held in Perth each September.

Although previously only a small number of students were selected to attend the Expo, Kate McCarthy says the event has now been expanded so that any interested student may attend.

“Some schools offer the Next Generation Program as an extra-curricular activity,” she says. “Those students have made a conscious choice to be involved in the program, so we don’t want to exclude them from the Expo.”

Students go through 25-30 different activities, designed to be fun and interactive as well as to encourage discussion between the students and industry representatives.

Seismic Acquisition is one of the most popular activities. A small vibroseis truck drops a 100kg weight onto the oval at Edith Cowan University (ECU), and soundwaves travel down through the earth before bouncing back to microphones positioned around the oval. The microphones are attached to a central processing computer via cables.

Hamish Smith says the vibrations travel about 700m underground. “It’s a fun activity for the students. They can explore the seismic profile of the oval at ECU, observing sand layers and other elements that make up the underground strata.”

Another popular activity is programming and flying a drone, which is done inside the big sports centre at ECU. Kate McCarthy says no drones are damaged during the activity. “My first thought was that it’s pretty amazing technology that looks like it could easily be broken but it’s all good, the students do well,” she says.

Other challenges include using a robotic arm to stack piping, assembling an emergency shower as quickly as possible, building a bridge out of spaghetti and marshmallows, trying on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and using a sandpit to mimic an undersea environment.

The students are tested throughout the day, scoring points for each challenge they undertake. The top three schools win adventure prizes including helicopter underwater escape training, sea survival and skipper training, rope access training and learning to navigate a Liquid Natural Gas tanker through a shipping channel.

In 2018, six students from Dongara travelled to Perth for the Expo. They competed against 13 other schools and were awarded second place. Hamish Smith was delighted.

“Everyone from Dongara District High School was exceptionally proud of our team for doing so well,” he says. “They collaborated and worked really well together as a team.

“The students were awarded a trip on the Leeuwin sail training ship which they thoroughly enjoyed. It was a great way to celebrate their success.”

Hamish says success at the Expo has increased the students’ confidence.

“They competed in a bigger arena and they excelled. It’s a reflection of their abilities and demonstrated quite clearly there’s no disadvantage to being a rural student.

“Talking with the students about careers has been very rewarding. They can see now there’s an option of working in the oil and gas industry in a wide range of roles. One of the students commented that it was nice to know there were more options for working in Dongara than she had previously thought.”

Hamish Smith says the Next Generation Schools Program has been running for over 20 years, and has the full support of the Minister of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.

“We have graduates who are now mentors at schools themselves. Once upon a time they were sitting in the classroom participating in the Next Generation program, then they went on to work in the oil and gas industry and now they’re mentoring the next generation,” he says.

Vibroseis trucks

Denison 3D Seismic Survey

Students learned about Seismic Acquisition at the Expo. Read about the 3D Seismic Survey undertaken in the Dongara area in 2004.

Adventure on the Leeuwin
Happy girls on the Leeuwin sailing ship
Learning to sail the Leewuin
Dongara District High School students on the Leeuwin sailing ship
Dustin Nutter, MEPAU TAFE Scholarship winner


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The Northern Perth Basin

The northern Perth Basin is a prolific oil and gas producing area covering a large portion of the Mid West region of Western Australia. The town of Dongara, located approximately 360km north of Perth, is the regional economic hub for a number of industries, including oil and gas.