At sea - professional development in petroleum and drilling engineering

Materials World magazine
2 Sep 2011
oil rig

The youngest division of IOM3 is Petroleum & Drilling Engineering. Martin Cox, division member and Chair of IMMa discusses the professional development of this burgeoning industry.

Petroleum & Drilling Engineering (P&DE) is one of the 17 technical divisions within the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3). The organisation’s mining divisions trace their roots to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the UK, and IOM3 serves its Royal Charter by providing professional accreditation and the promotion of professional standards within its membership.

During the 19th Century, major mining accidents and the associated loss of life, the ensuing public outrage, political and judicial response and financial impact resulted in the establishment of specialist engineering institutions for the industry. The Industrial Revolution created an insatiable demand for energy, mainly from coal. At the same time, production methods reached the edge of technology and safety as the economy moved from a feudal-based agricultural society to an industrial one. One of the key objectives of the engineering institutions at their inception was to develop and maintain the competence of engineers, improve safety and efficiency in industry and also the profitability of companies.

More than 100 years on, recent incidents in the oil and gas field have once again highlighted the need for the continual professional development of its engineers and assessment of ability by peer group to maintain, assess and drive safety and efficiency in our industry.

In an industry that has seen a massive expansion since the initial discovery of hydrocarbons in the North Sea in the 1960s, the region has drawn on a variety of sources for its know-how and work force. Initially, the industry used the skills of oil and gas professionals from overseas, attracting the attention of British engineers who wished to work in home waters together with others who came from all parts of the world seeking opportunity. As the industry accelerated in the 1970s and into the 1980s, it also attracted those from established industries, those straight out of education, and again those from overseas.

The generation that followed the North Sea pioneers brought a range of new skills to the sector, a necessary requirement for a highly competitive industry, which is reflected in the seven members of the P&DE Board. Three members (Margaret Copland, Craig Durham and Steve Jewell) joined the industry directly after graduation, and two arrived from the UK deep coal mining industry (Steve Bedford and Martin Cox). Of the final two members, Babs Oyeneyin is from Benin and Stuart Preston’s professional origins are with IOM3, although with a mining background.

Peak production in the North Sea was in 1999, and came mainly from the area known as East of Shetland (from the east of the Shetland Isles, down the eastern UK seaboard to the southern North Sea). This mature area is faced with the challenge of bringing on stream reserves that are typically smaller or technically more demanding at the same time as using an infrastructure that was put in place for the older ‘superfields’ with multi-billion barrel reserves, and maximising their ultimate recovery.

The story in West of Shetland is completely different. A frontier region, exploration and ensuing production have taken place on the UK continental shelf and towards the deep water margins of the UK’ territorial waters, referred to as the Atlantic Margin. As production has fallen in the last decade in the maturing East of Shetland, it has been increasing to the west as new fields have come on-stream. These include those initially found (as in the case of the Clair development) and more recently in deeper water (Schehallion, Fionavein, Loyal).

To meet these challenges there are now more operators, which has added a greater diversity to the North Sea industry. The multinational operating companies that developed the North Sea deposits (for example BP, Shell and ExxonMobil) are still there, but have been joined by others, some who have developed from previous downsizing by the supermajors in other regions (including Talisman out of BP Canada and Nexen of Canada out of Occidental). Other smaller operators are looking to add value to a licence area by accessing venture capital, with the goal being to either sell the licence or the enterprise on after a successful discovery.

Similarly, the service companies that directly undertake the project work to meet operator objectives and requirements are made up of the large multinationals, the medium-sized and also those with niche technology, supported by venture capital and looking to place their ideas and products to grow market share and either recapitalise to continue their growth or realise their value by being purchased by a larger multiservice company.

Within this complex industry, professional institutions have their part to play through continuous professional development that maintains standards and provides a means for employers to assess an individual’s capability and potential.

The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining provides recognised professional qualifications under its Royal Charter, and is licensed to issue Charterships (Chartered Engineer, Chartered Scientist, Chartered Environmentalist) on behalf of the UK Engineering Council. These titles are obtained through extensive candidate review of experience and education in addition to interview by a relevant peer group. The peer group may recommend further periods of experience or academic attainment, or offer alternative professional recognition such as Engineering Technician (Eng Tech), or Incorporated Engineer (IEng).

The range of benefits of membership and accreditation has already created a network of 1,000 members from oilfield centres across the globe. It is evident that there is an increasing world-wide demand for UK professional qualifications. Given that all types of energy projects are working to address issues with national and international companies.

Further information

Benefits of IOM3 membership

IOM3 Petroleum & Drilling Engineering Division