Commentary, 3/4 2016

Published May 12, 2016
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SOGM 3/4 2016 cover

Preparing for the Future

Like almost everyone in the industry, we’re keeping a close watch on the price of oil. While it can be a bit frustrating day-to-day, as we prepared to go to press – and over the last month – we’ve seen a few positive signs.

Whatever the reason – whether a possible production freeze, increased demand, shrinking reserves, or a shake-out of producers that can’t turn a profit with current prices – there may be cause for some hope for a lasting upturn. A month or so of an upward trend could quickly turn downwards, but there’s also the possibility that it signals that we’ve begun to inch past the bottom of the cycle.

We’ve also been hearing for more than a year that this period has been a good time for the industry to take stock of how it does business, with an eye to working more efficiently and effectively.

One recent event here in the Oslo area, Subsea Valley – with the goal of “sharing successes, solutions, challenges and future technology needs with industry leading scientists, engineers, managers, politicians and executives” – helped put a face on how the industry is adapting to lean times from a technological perspective.

Events such as Subsea Valley and the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) remind us that although the industry is experiencing lean times, innovation and new technologies to overcome the challenges are continuously being developed and improved. And we’ve been hearing more and more about the promise of these technologies and how they are paying off.

So although the industry is experiencing lean times, many companies are doing their best to prepare for the eventual upswing – which is not a matter of if, but of when. And when it arrives, the industry – from what we can see at events like Subsea Valley and OTC – should be ready to take advantage of the opportunity.

But in parallel with the positive development of cost-saving technologies and evolution of routines towards leaner, more efficient practices, have come news of redundancies. And this troubling news of new and increasing redundancies leads many to worry about a future expertise deficit.

It wasn’t so long ago that a major concern for the industry was securing expertise. The competition to hire engineers and skilled labour was fierce. It’s understandable that this has completely turned around. But the industry should now be concerned that when the need to grow the workforce returns – sometime before the decade ends – that meeting the demand could be problematic.

Events such as Subsea Valley, OTC and Offshore Northern Seas (ONS) have traditionally included programmes to reach out to youth, opening their doors to young people to give them a taste of what working in the industry is all about. Yet the numbers of applications to pursue oil and gas related degrees at the university level have waned over the last two years.

More should be done to encourage older students to consider engineering as they continue their studies.

As the oil and gas industry has been examining how to work more efficiently, it has turned to other industries for ideas – either for new technology or for improving how business is done. In a similar vein, the industry should make it clear to prospective engineering students that oil and gas technologies offer challenges and rewards that encompass the entire scope of their studies.

So while we may be seeing signs that the oil-price cycle has begun its upswing – even though it’s early days – the industry needs to ensure that it considers how it will succeed in meeting the need for expertise in the coming years.

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