Pipe work

The hunt is on for top engineers and scientists to help oil and gas industry continue to innovate and remain competitive. Julia Pierce reports.


With producers such as BP, Shell and Exxon Mobil all posting record profits in recent months, the health of the oil and gas industry is there for all to see.

Oil prices have now declined from their peak levels at well over $100 a barrel. Yet the legacy of low recruitment during the period of low energy prices between the mid-1980s and the start of this decade, as well as job cuts following a wave of huge mergers at the end of the 1990s, means that the hunt for new recruits to replace an ageing workforce is still on.

A recent report by Cambridge Energy Research Associates claims that there are not enough engineers to meet the demands of current projects, and a shortfall of between 10 and 15 per cent is likely by 2010.

Meanwhile, there are also considerable challenges in the fields of exploration and production that will require the best engineers and scientists to both source remaining reserves from existing wells and find ways to exploit new resources that are harder to extract.

International drilling technology company ReedHycalog designs, manufactures and distributes premium fixed cutter and roller cone drill bits, coring, hole opening, downhole tools and engineering services to the global oil and gas industry.

Its products are generally sold to the upstream oil and gas operators and, less frequently, drilling contractors on footage contracts. The company’s design strategy is founded on four interdependent bit performance factors — rate of penetration (ROP), durability, stability and steerability — and it aims to constantly develop new technologies which are changing drilling practices and reducing cost-per-foot.

‘We are expecting a big workload for 2009,’ said solutions engineering manager Ridha Chafai. ‘The company is doing very well and we need more staff to help keep up with the demand.’

ReedHycalog is looking for employees at various levels, ranging from recent graduates to those with experience both within and outside the oil and gas industry. The role is based in Gloucestershire, and involves international travel, supporting the company’s field and sales engineering operations.

Expansion of the business is also a strategy that will continue. ‘Our aim is to become a leader within our sector of the oil and gas industry,’ said Chafai. ‘We have just been acquired by National Oilwell Varco (NOV) the third largest equipment provider in the business, and the clear strategy is to develop market share,’ he said. ‘But to do this we need more members of the team, and expect to continue our recruitment well into 2009 to enable our planned growth.’

Parent company NOV is a major global designer, manufacturer and seller of comprehensive systems and components used in oil and gas drilling and production, tubular inspection, internal tubular coatings, integrated systems, downhole tools, and also lifting and handling equipment. Within the positions available, there may also be some opportunity to work on the research and development of new technologies.

Innovation is also driving demand for staff at Cornwall-based Calidus Engineering. It is seeking engineers to work with an innovative exploration technology that has the potential to save the industry substantial amounts of money. ‘We are looking for experienced design engineers with mechanical and electrical engineering skills,’ explained Nigel Halladay, managing director. ‘They will be part of a massive research programme that is helping to fuel very rapid growth for the company.’

Calidus is providing the engineering expertise to support the development of a revolutionary fly-by-wire autonomous drilling system known as The Badger that is launched from an exploration vessel before using its sensors to seek out ideal drilling locations on the sea bed.

It then drills down into the sea floor in search of oil reserves, up to a depth of three kilometres. Logging sensors measure exploration data properties during the process and communicate this back to the ship. As the system replaces the need to position an expensive rig over potential sites, it is hoped the process will cut the cost of such investigations to up to a tenth, as well as saving fuel and minimising disruption to the local marine ecosystem. Sponsors of the programme include Shell, ExxonMobil and Norway’s Statoil.

Calidus is also involved in creating tooling solutions for major companies such as Weatherford, with a strong emphasis on high reliability. It carries out research and development in areas including hydraulics, mechanics, electronics and software, followed by prototype manufacture and final production, creating products such as wire-logging tools, MWD systems — to determine in 3D the exact position of a drill at all times — permanently deployed gauges and subsea control and power distribution systems capable of operating at temperatures of up to 400º C.

‘Such technologies are either permanently deployed or have to work within a hostile environment under conditions of high temperatures and high pressure,’ said Halladay. ‘The engineering challenges are substantial.’

Subsea system specialists JP Kenny is looking for pipeline design engineers to work on a variety of projects for clients, including the major oil operators. As well as hiring experienced engineers it runs a graduate recruitment programme for entrants seeking positions in both pipeline design and the company’s subsea equipment groups.

Business manager Ron Bird said: ‘We have unrivalled global experience of subsea and pipeline projects in all the major hydrocarbon basins and have in-depth knowledge of the technical challenges faced in every environment.

‘With our sister company, IONIK Consulting, we are able to combine our global engineering expertise with market leadership in total asset life-cycle management. Our people are therefore best placed to tackle the world’s biggest and most challenging projects, offering the broadest subsea engineering skills available, supported by innovation, teamwork and delivery.

‘JP Kenny staff have been actively involved in many of the innovations and development that have made the oil and gas sector one of the most technologically advanced industries in the world and we continue a recruitment programme for graduates and experienced engineers in all disciplines relating to subsea pipelines.’

IONIK Consulting, which specialises in materials engineering, corrosion engineering and asset life-cycle integrity management solutions, is also in growth mode. Based at its offices in Aberdeen, Staines and Stavanger in Norway, the company can offer engineers the opportunity to gain experience across the EU and locations such as Africa, the middle east, Canada and the former Soviet Union.

With commodities prices now stabilising, new technologies have an important role to play in cutting production costs for the oil and gas industry, as well as allowing the maximum amount of raw materials to be identified and extracted.

And, as the companies featured here are aware, only by seeking out and recruiting the best engineers can the industry continue to innovate and remain competitive.