It has been almost 30 years since I decided to join the oil industry. In the 1990s, it wasn’t an obvious decision for a young woman with a general mathematics degree, studying in London but originally from rural Derbyshire with two teacher parents. And in a time when Shell’s decision to dispose of Brent Spar was a hot topic, and Brent price had subsided to around $20/bbl after an infamous boom in the 1980s.
An international oil and gas career was not what I had thought about when I imagined cycling to work along the Thames. But the oil industry still had a long future ahead of it, and the idea of combining technical problem-solving in an international setting had great appeal. I didn’t join Shell with the definite intention of staying with the company, or even in the oil industry, for all of my career. But the initial opportunities to learn and develop, while working on worthwhile and challenging problems with talented colleagues, were clear.
And when I reflect on it, regardless of the noise, particularly in Western media, the same value proposition is there. Joining the upstream subsurface community means starting a career full of creative opportunities and a chance to contribute to solving the world’s energy problems. The energy landscape as we know it is shifting. Forecasts indicate that the energy mix is going to change at varying rates and degrees of complexity across the globe in the coming years. Alongside a rapid growth of renewable sources like wind, solar, and low-emission fuels, there will be a continued and long-term global demand for oil and gas. Working in upstream doesn’t necessarily mean staying in upstream, and many of the challenges faced in developing oil and gas are very similar to those faced in developing nonfossil-fuel energy sources, which allows for exciting opportunities to develop transferable skills that would be an asset to many new energies’ projects.
What sort of similar challenges are we talking about? Well, the most obvious are those in carbon capture and storage, or CCS. In oil and gas development, we study reservoirs to analyze where to drill, to determine what will be recovered, and to decide whether we should inject water or gas to increase production rates. We drill wells to produce oil or gas, we monitor production and decide whether to optimize production through higher or lower rates, we decide whether to open or close zones, we decide whether to drill infill wells, we decide when to cease production from individual wells or from an entire field, and we decide how to safely abandon the reservoirs and wells. For CCS, we do a subset of this; we work out where we can safely store CO2, we decide how many wells to drill, we determine how to monitor to ensure the CO2 is being safely sequestered, and we decide how to we will eventually safely abandon the storage, leaving the CO2 trapped eternally in the subsurface. Many of our traditional subsurface skills are immediately translated for these types of projects—and equally all of the integration skills that subsurface engineers develop in their oil and gas production roles are immediately translatable for CCS projects.