Dongara District High School – Petroleum Club’s Next Generation Program

Mitsui E&P Australia (MEPAU) sponsors the Next Generation Schools Program at Dongara District High School.

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

Four hundred students from 11 schools are participating in the 2018 program. Dongara District High School is the only regional school involved.

Kate McCarthy, Club Manager at Petroleum Club WA, says the sponsorship makes it possible to include Dongara.

Dongara District High School Next Generation Program class of 2018
“MEPAU covers the cost of running the program in Dongara. Mentors need to travel up to Dongara 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 Dongara District High School.

“We deliver the program to the Year 10 science class,” 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.

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, then in the afternoon we visit the Waitsia site.”

Students see the wellhead and associated piping, and can hear gas passing through the wellhead choke.

Afterwards they see the gas gathering hub where Waitsia-01 and Senecio-03 flowlines are joined into a common pipeline.

Finally the class visit the nearby Xyris Production Facility.

The students who visited in May 2018 asked 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 trip around the facility and gas field took two hours and was reportedly thoroughly enjoyed by the class and teachers.

Session 2

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

In June 2018 this included Nina Lowes, Senior Petroleum Engineer at Mitsui E&P Australia, and Rob Towner, Managing Director at Triangle Energy.

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

She says, “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 2018 game students owned different types of companies and they needed to find people that would enhance their company. If they were an exploration company, they’d need drillers and geologists. If they were a production company, they’d need operators.

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

“It gave us the opportunity to talk about careers. We were 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.

Six or seven students are selected from each school, making a total of about 180 students participating in the day.

Students go through a number of different experiences, designed to be fun and interactive as well as to encourage discussion between the students and industry representatives.

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 and rope access training.

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.

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
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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.