Model student

The first NPD employee with a PhD in carbon injection emphasises that her work only forms a small part of the bigger picture. Van Thi Hai Pham notes that the carbon challenge is a recent phenomenon and overcoming it has many different aspects.
  • Bjørn Rasen and Emile Ashley (photos)

Pham has a short answer when asked whether she regards the much-discussed greenhouse gas as a resource or a problem – it is both, she says.

“Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is one cause of global warming, and scientists and politicians must work more closely together to reduce emissions,” she points out.


Van Thi Hai Pham

Van Thi Hai Pham has contributed to two atlases which show possible carbon
storage sites in the North and Norwegian Seas respectively. A third volume on
the Barents Sea is under preparation.



“On the other hand, carbon injection could be a means of recovering more petroleum through enhanced oil recovery (EOR).”

But the big climate issues are not the focus of attention in her thesis on Carbon storage – simulations for forecasting the effects and behaviour of injection in geological formations.

This subject covers key issues which must be resolved when carbon dioxide is to be injected below ground for either storage or EOR.



“I came up with a model for mineral trapping, which explains how large carbon volumes react with rock constituents to form stable carbonates,” Pham explains.

She has been involved in the NPD’s work on mapping possible sites for sub-surface carbon storage on the NCS, which has so far yielded two large atlases.

These cover the North and Norwegian Seas respectively, with a third volume, and the last planned so far, still in production for the Barents Sea.

“We’re doing a thorough job to obtain an overview of relevant locations for carbon storage,” she reports. “Advice on regulating how and where this might happen is also part of our mandate.”

Like most other NPD employees, Pham belongs to several teams. One follows up the big Troll field in the North Sea to ensures that the licensees optimise recovery of its oil and gas.



She also applies her expertise to reservoir modelling and simulation, and pursued her PhD work in addition to doing a full-time job.

The subject of carbon injection was chosen slightly at random, she admits. “I was motivated and like studying,” she says. “The topic was suggested to me, and I latched onto it.”

Her thesis comprises five scientific articles, of which four have been published and the last accepted for publication.

With the NPD since September 2011, Pham came to Norway from her native Vietnam eight years ago to study at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.

After taking an MSc there and becoming a reservoir engineer, she went to the University of Oslo to start her PhD studies and defended her thesis in the geological faculty on 15 February.

Pham describes the transition to Norway as “a very big change. My initial impression was that the country is peaceful and a little cold. The first challenge was to decide what food to eat.”

Even after eight years, she still has a lot to explore. Work on her thesis has demanded commitment every evening and a lot of weekends, “although I’ve had a little time off in between.”

She confirms the many headlines in the press that not many Norwegians follow her example and go all the way to a PhD. “I had a lot of international fellow students, but few from Norway.”

Her impression is that Norwegians have a social network and the prospect of well-paid jobs, even without a postgraduate degree.

“Most of them obviously choose that path. It’s quite normal to think that way. Those of us who come from other countries are in a different position, and lack the same networks. That makes it natural to study more.”

Pham is enjoying herself and has settled in well. She finds the Norwegian style “direct and honest, it’s possible to say no. People respect that you want a private life.”

Her advice to other foreign students is to take the initiative themselves if they want more contact, “because Norwegians are open and helpful if you only dare to ask.”

She found the transition particularly hard as a woman, since the female role in her homeland is to be more passive than in Norway, “and adapting to that proved difficult.”

This has not been a problem in her present job, however, and she likes the NPD model of working in different teams. “That allows me to test myself while also widening my perspective.”


Van Thi Hai Pham feels Norwegians are direct and honest, a style she finds very engaging.