Why oil and gas engineers should consider a career in hydrogen

As net zero beckons career opportunities in oil and gas  are not what they used to be. But engineers working in the industry are well placed to pursue a new career in the burgeoning hydrogen sector writes Bill Ireland, CEO of Logan Energy.

The UK’s oil and gas sector faces a big problem. As we work towards ending our dependency on fossil fuels, this industry must diversify to embrace and incorporate new, cleaner energy solutions. This will protect not only our environment, but the communities around the country that rely on the jobs provided both directly and indirectly. Engineers are already finding that work opportunities are becoming thin on the ground. And time is running out.

The UK government is committed to reaching ambitious Net Zero targets in the next few decades. I believe hydrogen energy is one solution that will help attain these goals. Not necessarily the whole answer, but certainly a large part of it.

A bold new frontier

The hydrogen sector offers engineers currently working in oil and gas a sound alternative career path. The valuable skills and knowledge gleaned from their time in O&G will enable them to not only make the switch, but work at the frontier of this upcoming sector, building strong foundations that future generations will rely upon. As the hydrogen sector continues to expand, job numbers are increasing, offering a great alternative for those struggling to find work in O&G.

hydrogen careers
Image: Malp via stock.adobe.com

And this is what is so important. We must consider hydrogen as the bedrock upon which future clean energy systems are built. This is not a quick fix and will take skill and dedication. It is vital that we get the right people into the right jobs, and quickly. Anyone looking to make the switch must understand that this is difficult, but important work. The long-term goal is to battle climate change and ensure we repair at least some of the damage we have done to our planet.

As exciting as it is to work on the front lines of the clean energy revolution, it also presents a challenge in driving recruitment from existing energy sectors such as O&G. Currently, although expensive to drill for, oil has a much higher ROI. We must generate the hydrogen; we don’t just pull it from the ground. We simply cannot compete with the high salaries usually enjoyed by engineers working with fossil fuels. There is a disparity between expectation of what you must do to get paid at a certain level.

However, with the changing climate in the O&G sector, and the price per barrel coming down, wages may remain high, but there are fewer opportunities available. What the hydrogen sector can offer is increasing employment opportunity as the sector grows, vital to our economy in the current climate.

Transferable skills

When it comes down to it, both sectors rely upon basic engineering skills. That’s it. If you are considering making the jump to hydrogen from oil and gas, the requirements at a base level are similar. We need mechanical fitters, electricians, people skilled at welding, fixing or terminating cabling. Fitting things into boxes. All these skills are important. We just need you to have the ability to reapply these skills to different environments, scale and applications, and an appetite to drive real change in our energy sector.

At Logan Energy, a number of the components we use, and their suppliers, have been established in the oil and gas sector. These are tried and tested, and we know will be robust and serve our purposes well. Again, it is just applying similar requirements to different environments. And as hydrogen production systems are not reliant on oil rigs in the North Sea, for example, you can adjust in a much less challenging environment. It’s often using similar instrumentation on a far smaller scale, in convenient locations closer to home. Indeed, a great benefit of hydrogen energy is that is can be generated almost anywhere, negating the need to spend time away from family in distant locations.

Working together

These shared skill sets, knowledge and experience will enable a Just Transition towards cleaner energy production for our oil and gas communities. It is crucial that we learn from the mistakes of our past and avoid the cruel impact the decimation of our coal and steel industries had on the people who relied upon these for their livelihoods.

Not only can our burgeoning hydrogen sector provide alternative employment opportunities to O&G, but we can work with the industry to upskill the existing workforce and help realign the current infrastructure as it makes the switch to clean energy. However, it is vital that these communities show willingness to rescale and redeploy to make this work.

Education is key to helping people understand the great opportunities that are becoming increasingly available. When you enter a new industry like hydrogen, you must learn and even invent. Oil and gas has become stagnant and uses many of the same processes developed years ago. Hydrogen requires true innovation and new ideas to thrive. I always say, if I don’t learn five new things a day, I’m disappointed. Working in the hydrogen sector means I rarely am.

Bill Ireland is CEO of hydrogen technology expert Logan Energy