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Mexican energy reform architect Edgar Rangel-German receives first Mid-Career Alumni Award

Stanford Earth’s Mid-Career Alumni Award is offered annually to alumni 45 years and younger who have made significant contributions to civil, government, business, or academic communities. 

By
Danielle Torrent Tucker
June 19, 2017
Edgar Rangel-German at a meeting
Edgar Rangel-German stands at Mexico's first bidding round to open hydrocarbon exploration and production to private sector investment in Mexico City, Mexico on July 15, 2015. Photo credit: Grecia Ramirez-Ovalle

The School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences has awarded its inaugural Mid-Career Alumni Award to Edgar R. Rangel-German for his exceptional contributions to energy reform in Mexico.

A master’s and PhD graduate of Energy Resources Engineering (ERE), ’98, ’03, Rangel-German was a key player behind the implementation of Mexico’s 2013 energy reform as a commissioner with its National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH). Rangel-German died of heart failure March 23, 2016, at the age of 42. He is remembered by colleagues and the Stanford community for his dogged perseverance and advocacy for Mexico.

“He was said to be one of the most influential people in Mexico,” said Anthony Kovscek, the Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor of Energy Resources Engineering, who served as Rangel-German’s PhD advisor. “When he was appointed in 2009, he was the youngest CNH commissioner ever – by far.”

A champion of using enhanced oil recovery to increase extraction of hydrocarbons, Rangel-German’s professional career began in 2004 with PEMEX – the Mexican state-owned petroleum operation and the largest company in the country – where he defined the first recovery factors for heavy oil fields using reservoir simulations. In 2005, Rangel-German entered the political sphere as the Chief Technical Advisor of the Undersecretary of Hydrocarbons at the Ministry of Energy in Mexico City, drafting energy reform projects, designing a new fiscal regime for PEMEX, coordinating international initiatives, and organizing the first workshops related to deepwater and heavy oil projects.

“He wanted to make Mexico more open and he wanted the energy sector to benefit all Mexicans,” said Kovscek, who also chairs the Department of Energy Resources Engineering. “He advocated reform and world-class energy projects.”

Rangel-German earned a powerful reputation in the international energy community thanks to his command of English as a second language for speaking and technical writing – skills he was determined to master while studying at Stanford, according to Kovscek.

“He was the kind of person that could make the impossible happen,” said ERE graduate student Grecia Ramirez-Ovalle, a colleague and friend who met Rangel-German when he was teaching a class at the Mexican National Autonomous University (UNAM). “He had intelligence, creativity, and was fearless to tackle some of the most challenging energy problems Mexico was facing.”

Following his appointment with Mexico’s Department of Energy, Rangel-German accepted a position with Mexico’s Department of Finance and Public Credit of Mexico (SHCP). He managed investment programs and projects in the hydrocarbons, electricity, environment, and water sectors – projects that comprise more than 80 percent of the public’s investment in the federal budget of expenditures. As commissioner at CNH beginning in 2009, Rangel-German’s responsibilities included representing Mexico in international energy policy groups, improving enhanced oil recovery, and planning extraction of hydrocarbons.

Rangel-German was instrumental in bringing about constitutional changes in 2013, opening the country’s oil and gas market to private investments and technical expertise to increase production. On March 26, 2015, he was inducted into Mexico’s prestigious Academy of Engineering, the highest national honor for professional contributions to the science and practice of engineering in Mexico.

“Dr. Rangel-German’s friends used to say he was a great political beast, and he used to reply, ‘no, I am a scientist,’” according to Ramirez-Ovalle. “He was a natural leader.”

Rangel-German’s graduate research involved developing novel tools to investigate oil and gas flow. For his thesis, he designed a series of experiments to visualize and expose the physics of multiphase fracture-to-matrix fluid transfer using 3-D X-ray imaging. He then developed a theory to describe his results so it could be used by engineers in reservoir simulators.

“He taught by example, working as much as he asked his team, and all his energy was put toward the well-being of the country,” Ramirez-Ovalle said. “His love was for his country.”

Edgar-Rangel German sits at table with colleagues

Rangel-German sits at a table with Stanford professor Anthony Kovscek, front right, who invited Rangel-German to join him during his acceptance of an award from the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Photo courtesy of Grecia Ramirez-Ovalle.

Kovscek accepted the Mid-Career Alumni Award on Rangel-German’s behalf June 18 during Stanford Earth’s commencement ceremony. Award recipients are selected by committee from nominations submitted by Stanford Earth faculty.

The son of Rene Rangel-Ramirez and Esperanza German-Villada, Rangel-German was born on September 23, 1973 in Mexico City, Mexico. He obtained his B.S. in Petroleum Engineering from UNAM, from which he graduated with honors and won the Gabino Barreda medal for his academic record – and he was the only student in the school’s history to earn a graduating grade point average of 10.0/10.0. He is survived by his wife, Jennifer O'Donoghue, PhD ’06, his children Ximena and Liam, his parents, and his siblings.

In addition to his work to tackle Mexico’s most challenging energy problems, Rangel-German was known for his kindness, sense of humor, respect for all opinions, and philosophy of living life to the fullest. His untimely death was profoundly lamented by many around the world, and “was the loss of a modern Mexican hero” Ramirez-Ovalle said.

“He had this magnetic attraction to people,” she said, noting that Rangel-German would receive multitudes of requests for meetings after giving a presentation. “I used to compare him with Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy – he was such a witty and articulate speaker that at the end of a conversation, you would love him.”