Oilfield Professionals Should Seek New Frontiers

by Jon Mainwaring, Senior Editor, EMEA 

Another month goes by and the oil and gas sector suffers another four weeks of doom and gloom. October saw European companies such as Royal Dutch Shell plc and Statoil ASA announce cancellations and delays to projects – on which they had already spent billions of dollars – in an attempt to curb costs and reshape their businesses for a prolonged low oil price environment.

First, Shell declared near the end of October that it would shelve its Carmon Creek oil sands project in Alberta, Canada, taking a $2-billion charge as a consequence. Then, Statoil said it was delaying the start-up date for its $7-billion Mariner oilfield in the North Sea from 2017 to the second half of 2018. Meanwhile, BP plc has put back a final investment decision for its Mad Dog Phase 2 project in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

Things aren’t looking too bright onshore U.S. either, with Occidental Petroleum Corp. exiting its Bakken shale oil assets in North Dakota (long seen by the industry as an expensive place to do business) in favor of investing further in the Permian Basin.

All of this spells bad news for upstream oil and gas professionals who work onshore United States and Canada, as well as in the North Sea.

However, if the likes of Shell are right and we are at the start of a prolonged period of lower oil prices then professionals keen to remain in the industry will need to be prepared to look further than increasingly-mature regions like the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and expensive onshore oil patches like Canada and North Dakota. Believe it or not, there are places in the world that are going to need to import technical talent in order to make their oil and gas industries work in the near future.

One example is Israel, which has several trillion cubic feet of natural gas lying offshore that is currently being developed both for domestic use and for exports. But Israel has very few home-grown oil and gas engineers and geologists. In order for its industry to remain viable it is going to need to find people from elsewhere.

The situation is analogous to when the UK North Sea industry first got going in the 1960s and 70s. Back then, Scotland imported talent from the United States – and Texas in particular – before it eventually produced the tens of thousands of its own petroleum engineers, geologists and other oilfield technicians who currently reside in Aberdeenshire.

For those prepared to travel and experience different cultures, work can always be found.

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