Cutting Edge > Energy > Course Descriptions > Energy Resources

Energy Resources

Allen Kihm
Minot State University
Author Profile


A survey of fossil fuel, nuclear, renewable and unconventional energy sources. Emphasis is on origin, use and implications of development. Field trips include visits to various energy producing sites.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This course has Physical Geology as the only pre-requisite. The course is required of students completing the Environmental Geology minor. Almost all students who have taken the course previously were also Geology majors (non-teaching).

Course Content:

About 50% of the lecture portion of the course deals with fossil fuels with a heavy emphasis on their occurrence in North Dakota, as well as a discussion of national and international reserves, production and consumption. Time is also spent on unconventional sources such as tar sands, oil shales, coal bed methane and coal gasification and liquifaction. The remaining 50% deals with renewable energy resources, development trends, potential development (again especially as it relates to North Dakota), and finally nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal. Laboratory time includes field trips to a working oil rig, a lignite strip mine (working), an oil pipeline facility, and a wind farm. I hope to include a trip to an experimental hydrogen generation/use facility. In-house labs work with basic map skills and then continue to the construction of structure contour, isopach and overburden thickness maps (for a coal bed). These skills are used to estimate resource amounts of a coal mine. Structure contour maps are used to play an oil exploraton game over a several week period.

Course Goals:

At the end of this course, the students should be able to articulate the basics of how fossil fuels are formed, the types of environments in which these resources formed and the types of rocks in which these resources are likely to be found. They should also have a clear idea of where these resources exist (which countries are resource rich) and some understanding of the degree of foreign dependency. For unconventional resources (such as oil shale) I expect they have a basic understanding of both the potential benefits as well as the technological barriers to development. For renewable sources they should have an understanding of how these sources are generated (biofuels), the limitations on development and those locations that have the greatest potential. For nuclear energy, they are expected to understand both the distribution of ore sources, as well as the geologic requirements for safe disposal of spent fuels. Specific skills are not emphasized as much as is an understanding of where energy comes from, how it is used and what the implications of its use is to humankind.

Course Features:

The activities which the students have responded to the most favorably are the field trips and the oil exploration game.

Course Philosophy:

Minot North Dakota is located within 75 miles of active lignite strip mines, is within the Williston Basin which typically means that active oil rigs are within 50 miles, and has a small wind farm about 25 miles from town. In addition, one of the major pipelines moving oil out of the Williston Basin has its major gathering and pumping facility in Minot. The North Dakota Extension Service has an experimental operation at the south edge of town to create hydrogen fuel from wind turbines, which is then used in some of its field vehicles. Most of our Geology students enter the energy industry or government agencies dealing with energy resources when they graduate.


As many of our students are employed by local energy companies or by state agencies, there is continued contact with many of our graduates. The feedback from them once they have left school is generally positive and suggests the course had educational value. The course is not a rigorous academic course, but rather is designed to produce an appreciation of energy resources.


Energy Resources class schedule (Microsoft Word 31kB Apr30 09)

References and Notes:

Resources of the Earth, Origin, Use and Environmental Impact. J.R. Craig, D.J. Vaughan, and B.J. Skinner

« Oil and Water (Geog 7)       Environmental Security »