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OE17: Biggest challenge is attracting next generation

Written by  OE Staff Thursday, 07 September 2017 04:50

The one biggest challenge facing the industry – apart from trying to make it profitable – is attracting new young talent, says the former CEO of North Sea independent Premier Oil. 

Nigel Wilson, who left Premier Oil in 2015, and is now chairman of specialist recruitment firm Petroplan (stand 6A24), echoed comments made in the opening plenary session of SPE Offshore Europe about the industry’s need to attract the next generation. He says that, despite having felt the pain of not taking in new talent in previous downturns, the industry hadn’t learned, with graduate intakes scheme and investment in new talent cut – at just the time it needs digital and technology savvy people to help reduce costs.

“The industry is facing a real dilemma in that it’s becoming less attractive for young people to join the industry for a host of reasons,” he says. “It’s not particularly environmentally friendly, people are becoming more aware of the green element, and it currently finds itself in a slump and not investing in young people, in the future. If industry really wants to make the economics that robotics and technology can bring, it needs to attract young people that can implement this.”

A more fundamental challenge is future demand for oil, when many people will be driving electric cars in 20 years’ time, he says. “This downturn is different and I don’t see an upturn coming,” says Wilson, “because we are now developing alternative sources of energy. I think the current oil price is the new norm, the top of the new norm. It’s not about waiting for the oil price to increase, it’s about reducing costs, making operations more efficient.” Meanwhile, gas prices will separate from oil as demand for gas for electricity production increases, he says. 

To reduce costs, there are initiatives like unmanned, remote operated platforms, as was intended for Premier Oil’s Solan field, west of Shetland. “Reducing operating cost is as important today as it has ever been and the biggest operating cost is the wage bill for people operating offshore,” says Wilson. “Remote operation also makes the platform safer. Success in going unmanned is about having the digital equipment to be able to do that, and satellite communication.”

Indeed, last week Wartsila operated a DP platform supply vessel in the North Sea remotely from San Diego, California, for four hours. Drill floor robots, made by Robotic Drilling Systems, which was bought by Nabors last week, have also been deployed by Statoil offshore Norway. 

Wilson also notes that the industry will be needing more people to move into decommissioning, especially well abandonment where unknown well integrity can lead to big challenges. This is an area Petroplan, which had previously focused on front end positions, is moving into, although even here, Wilson says operators are delaying work. Meanwhile, he says Petroplan, which works across the world, is finding the Middle East still busy, as well as the North American onshore, which tends to be more profitable than offshore. 

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