Burt Todd - The Petroleum Pirate

Standing at six feet and built like an NFL linebacker, may seem imposing with a particular skill for frightening children during Halloween. Burt Todd is not a frightening man.  Students in his class love Todd and the constant pirate jokes that he tells. 

“Arrrgh,” Todd says mimicking the drawl of a stereotypical pirate.  “R, a pirate’s favorite letter.”  A few chuckles come from the students.  Todd believes that petroleum engineers are pirates looking for buried treasure.  In his office, Todd has a pirate hat very similar to what Johnny Depp wears as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Todd isn’t afraid to admit mistakes that he makes.  Compared to other professors, Todd views his students in a unique way.

“Those people in that room I consider junior colleagues,” says Todd.  “If a colleague catches an error, he has done you a favor.  The most valuable thing an engineer can have is spotting faulty data.  If they catch an error, then I know they are learning what they need to know.  I am not above planting a false answer though.”

Past students have given Todd difficulty.  Rumors were ripe last year with a massive cheating scandal amongst the students in the Petroleum Department.  While Todd does not confirm the exact timeframe of the scandal, he admits there was a problem within the department.

“You don’t want your petroleum students not learning and then working with high pressure flammable stuff,” exclaims Todd.  “We have a responsibility.  On the stick side we are clamping down on the test taking part.  Spreading students, multiple tests, random assigned seating.  In our way, we mention that high risk, high reward job and we are trying to teach them.”  Todd believes that the department itself may need to adjust to the modern student.  He also thinks that the current code of conduct may need to be upgraded.  

Burt Todd graduated from Montana Tech in the 1970s.  He came to Tech on a basketball scholarship.  It was a summer job in the Baker oil field at the edge of the Eastern Montana border that sparked his passion for petroleum engineering.  Todd acknowledges that he is not a rich man, which may startle the dreams and aspirations of his junior colleagues.

“I am one of the few people who got into this business and not make it rich,” jokes Todd.  In the early 1980s, Todd walked away from being a petroleum engineer to do biking and skiing.  He figured that with oil prices being high, there would always be a job to go back to.  However the recession of 1983 hit, and Todd made the choice to go back to school to earn his masters and doctorate.  In 1990 he graduate Kansas with his doctorate and went to work with Phillips for the next 18 years.  It was then in 2008 he came back to Montana Tech, this time as a professor of petroleum engineering.

“I did my doctorate at Kansas,” recounts Todd.  “People thought the temperature rise was odd.  There are two points, chemical and geological.”  Todd then explains that the chemical aspect observes the core of the planet and the geological looks at the data going back thousands of years.  “My viewpoint is we are putting too much greenhouse gases into the environment.”  Todd mentions that he is working on projects to capture the greenhouse gases, but acknowledges the high costs required to capture the gases.

“We are part of [a] massive system dependent on fossil fuels,” says Todd.  “There will be a transition period.  Civilizations go through these periods.  They either manage it well or manage it poorly.”

A student in class mentions that it is “lame joke Friday”.  Todd asks the eagerly departing class if they have a joke for him and no one responds.  Todd then tells the lame joke, and the class groans as they leave.

1 comment: