UTPB Energy Landman program making headway

Pumpjacks operate in an oilfield as the sun begins to set on the horizon Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Midland, Texas. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)
Katharine Harrell

Being an integral part of the oil and gas industry, landmen and women have to know about a wide variety of things from the Endangered Species Act to running down a title digitally or at the courthouse.

Katharine Harrell is the program coordinator for the Energy Land Management program at University of Texas Permian Basin. She took a bachelor’s degree in accounting from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., and a law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston.

Harrell started as a full-time faculty member at UTPB in fall of 2021. She taught her first adjunct class in landman principles in 2020.

“I enjoyed it a lot and a full-time faculty position was coming up, so I applied for that,” she said.

Energy Land Management is an accredited business degree within the UTPB College of Business.

There have been eight graduates so far and Harrell said there are 12 to 15 students currently in the four-year program.

“I just enjoy working with the students and seeing them go on to be successful. It’s really rewarding. The energy industry has been really good to me and so I’m happy to see some of our graduates get out and be doing really well,” Harrell said.

She graduated from law school in 2007 and has worked as a landman or oil and gas lawyer since then.

She noted that it’s good to have some knowledge of law going into the landman field.

One of the classes students take is environmental law and other laws that are out there that impact their job.

“So say they’re dealing with trying to get a site together in West Texas you’re coming across different EPA rules, Endangered Species Act, Migratory Birds Act, things like that. … If they’re in surface land out here, if you are in mineral land, you’re always dealing with title documents. The law changes frequently and you kind of have to be up on the law to be able to keep up with that as well,” Harrell said.

The definition of landman depends on which type you’re talking about.

“If you’re talking about a field landman, they could be running title in the courthouse. It used to be in the courthouse now a lot of it’s online, but they’re sort of the forward-facing face between the oil company and the public. They’ll actually deal with the public. The in-house landman is a little different. They’re coordinating the different projects. There’s a lot of dealing with other oil companies and things like that, so it depends where you land what your everyday is going to look like,” Harrell said.

If you were a field landman, you were traveling to the courthouse all the time to look up titles. There are still some rural courthouses where you have to go in person to find the documents you need.

“But a lot of it is online now, so there’ll be searching those records online, but still probably traveling to courthouses to look for things like probate documents, court cases and things like that,” Harrell said.

In Texas, once you reserve the minerals, you own them in perpetuity.

“Fairly often you’ll find a situation where a great-grandfather reserved a royalty interest or a mineral interest in the 20s or in the 30s and maybe nothing’s been done in that area for a really long time. So you run the title and then you have to do the genealogy of it, who are the descendants and find them and contact them and explain to them that they have mineral interests, or mineral rights because they don’t actually know sometimes. … If you’re in this area, you probably know, but when I worked in East Texas, it was a lot more common to come across people that didn’t realize they had interest,” Harrell said.

If there hasn’t been any development on the land in a long time, no companies reaching out to try and lease them and no one asking about buying the rights, they don’t think about it.

“It’s just still out there. You don’t have to pay taxes on it unless it’s producing, so no reason to really think about it if it hasn’t been developed,” Harrell said.

There is a lot of natural gas development going on in East Texas right now.

“They’re doing some interesting things with lithium, too, and sort of tri-state area right there (Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas),” Harrell said.

They discuss various aspects of the energy industry that the students can work in and they take field trips.

“This spring EOG hosted us in New Mexico. We went with six students. We saw a compression station, an active drilling site, a frack site and a pipeline I think. It was a day of just kind of going around and seeing everything and I feel like it’s really beneficial for the students. I feel like we have a lot of industry support here. We’re in a good location,” Harrell said.

She added that it makes sense for the program to be here.

Being from the Lake Charles area, Harrell said Odessa is similar.

“I’m from a very rural area in Southwest Louisiana, not really dissimilar from our students here. I feel like they should have these opportunities that are right here at home for them,” she added.

Harrell and her husband, who is also in the oil and gas business, moved to West Texas in 2012.

The accrediting body for the course is AAPL, the American Association of Professional Landmen.

“They don’t have that many accredited programs and so they’re very supportive of the programs they do have. There are scholarships offered. Three of our students received scholarships that will be effective for fall ‘24 from AAPL. Permian Basin Landman’s Association is also very supportive and offers scholarships to our land students, so a lot of opportunity for scholarships for our students,” Harrell said.

She added that having this program at UTPB will draw people to the university.

“The word, I feel like, is starting to get out about it. … We’re starting to see some true incoming freshmen whose parents are land professionals. I feel like that bodes well for the future of the program. They already kind of know what the job is, and they’re seeing us as their opportunity to get into the business,” Harrell said.

Different levels of landmen make different salaries. Since UTPB is one of AAPL’s accredited schools, they have offered graduating seniors a chance to sit for the registered landman exam prior to graduation.

“We actually had to graduate this spring with the RL designation. They took the test and passed it so they had their RL designation,” Harrell said. “It’s sort of a signal to the industry that there’s a baseline knowledge there.”

She added that the industry has always been cyclical, but there have always been landmen.

“A lot of people will bring up alternative energy, things that are happening now, but once our students are trained for oil and gas, all those skills are transferable to those other forms of energy, so it creates another avenue for them,” Harrell said.

A lot of people left the oil and gas industry in the 1990s. There is a gap between people who are ready to retire and the younger people.

“But I feel like that’s one of the reasons that the industry is really pursuing the students because they know they recognize at this point, we need that pipeline of talent coming into the industry, so they’re supportive of that,” Harrell said.

She added that the energy land management program is growing.

“We’re growing and we’re trying our best to take advantage of and leverage all the help that’s being offered by the energy community here. We have lots of people that volunteer to come speak to our classes, and I try to take advantage of that. We have a student that graduated from our program two years ago that’s now an in-house landman at EOG and he’ll come back and talk to my landman principles class. He’s a good face of this is one of our graduates and now this is what he’s doing. He can tell them what a day in his life looks like,” Harrell said.

Dean of the College of Business Steve Beach is thrilled to have Harrell on board.

“Katharine Harrell is exactly the leader that UTPB needs for the Energy Land Management program. With her experience and expertise shared in the classroom, our graduates are ready to handle the issues they encounter in land work, from day one. Katharine brings leaders in the landman profession to meet with our students, accelerating the students’ professional development and opening career opportunities. Our program’s AAPL accreditation is in good hands,” Beach said.

Raj Dakshinamurthy, Provost/Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, echoed Beach’s thoughts.

“The Permian Basin is the heart of the oil and gas industry, so providing an Energy Land Management program at our university is vital. We’re thankful to have Dr. Harrell at the university as she gives students invaluable knowledge in preparing them for success in the energy sector,” Dakshinamurthy said.