Rising Star Vahid Fattahpour: Pride in Canadian oil and gas

Vahid Fattahpour is research and development manager with RGL Reservoir Management. Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

It pains Vahid Fattahpour to see people undervalue the enormous contribution of the oil and gas industry to our economy and our modern way of life. More than that, he wishes people were prouder of this industry.

“There are many ways to improve life in Alberta, but the oil and gas industry, for now, is the centre point. Maybe in 50 years, things will change, but I feel that we should spend more time promoting this industry at every level—at universities, in the communities, everywhere,” Fattahpour says.

Clarity often comes from contrast. Having grown up in Iran and seeing enough of the world, he knows how good Canadians have it. He’s proud to be part of the oil and gas sector and has worked hard to find his place in what he calls “real industry.”

“Physics is good because it’s all about science. Mathematics is good, chemical engineering is good. But when I was choosing what to study at university, I felt that if I wanted to have an impact and change something, I should go for petroleum engineering or mining engineering,” he says.


Vahid Fattahpour is one of the Fluor/Oilweek 2018 Rising Stars. To read all of their stories, click here.


In his quest to make a difference, Fattahpour first spent more than a decade in academia, starting with a mining undergraduate degree, a master’s degree and a PhD in rock mechanics.

“My PhD was about physical and numerical modelling of sand production and oil wells. In some semi-consolidated situations, you coproduce sand, so you need to know how to control it and how to model it,” Fattahpour explains.

Fattahpour then left Iran for a post doctorate in Hong Kong to get international experience. After that, he considered where in the world he could put his sand-control expertise to good use. And that brought him to Alberta.

He became a post-doctoral fellow and research associate at the University of Alberta. The university had a joint project with RGL Reservoir Management, where he now works.

“We manufacture the best sand control devices in the world. This is exactly what I wanted to do,” he says.

Over his long international academic journey, Fattahpour has had ample opportunity to compare how science and engineering is taught. He has his own ideas about what makes for effective teaching, as did his father who studied physics and was recognized as the best high school teacher in Iran at one time. His father believed that rather than sitting in class, students learn more through practical interaction with materials.

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. “At RGL we bring in interns from NAIT to get experience and this practical experience, I feel, is the best way to learn—it’s the way I learned.” he says.

Fattahpour also believes that people are both lifelong students and teachers. He did a stint as a university professor, but the pull of real-world engineering was too strong. That may change one day but, for now, the marriage of practice and theory provides him the best opportunity to help others advance their understanding and careers.

“Especially in engineering, if you just rely on science and textbooks—as amazing as they are—it’s still not enough. Engineering education needs to be rooted in practical experimentation and real-world understanding,” he says.


Education:

  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Alberta, Petroleum Geomechanics, (2013-2017)
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Hong Kong, Geotechnics, (2012-2013)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Tehran, Rock Mechanics (2007 – 2012)
  • Master of Science (M.Sc.), University of Tehran, Rock Mechanics (2004 – 2007)
  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.), University of Kerman, Mining Engineering (2000 – 2004)

Favourite charity: I have been involved in providing financial support for hospitals in poor districts of my birth town.

First job: Part-time worker in a pharmaceutical raw material production company.

If not for your career, what would you be doing: Research in history.

Best advice received: Just focus on doing your work well, forget about the workplace politics.

Favourite pastime: Reading books.

Favourite book/movie: The New Life by Orhan Pamuk; The Thorn Birds (mini series)

Other interests/passions: I adore Persian literature. I read a lot about world history.