Improving People's Lives: What You Do is Important
- Nathan Meehan (2016 SPE President)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- October 2015
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 14 - 16
- 2015. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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Each SPE president chooses a tagline for his or her monthly column, often referencing an underlying theme. Improving people’s lives is what we do as petroleum engineers, so it is an important theme for us. Oil and natural gas production raises the standard of living of people throughout the world. In the coming months, I will use this column to talk about some of the challenges and opportunities we face and some of the great things happening with SPE members around the world.
Why did you choose to become a petroleum engineer? For decades, I have posed this question to students and young professionals and have received many interesting responses. All too often, the responses include, “I read that petroleum engineers have high starting salaries.” There is nothing wrong with making money; highly skilled professionals who have invested a great deal of time and effort in their education and work hard should be well paid. That being said, choosing petroleum engineering or going to work in the upstream oil and gas industry with an engineering, Earth science, or other technical degree should not be based solely on how much money one can make.
Imagine that a high school senior who respects and trusts you comes to you seeking advice. Her first question is, “What are the most important things I should look for in deciding on a career?” Quickly, name three things. Possible answers include enjoyable work, career/life balance, stress and hours required “on the job,” financial security, the opportunity to make a lot of money, location, opportunities for travel, advancement or continuing education, types of personal interactions, reputation of the company/industry you work for, or satisfaction that you are doing something important.
As our prospective college student learns these things, she will have a better idea about satisfying career choices. A friend of mine chose a high-stress Wall Street job that afforded him almost no personal life but a chance to make more money than most of his peers. His college roommate took a 40-hour-a-week job in his hometown and has no expectations of getting rich.
The oil and gas industry is a great place to work for technical professionals. It is exciting, challenging, and rewarding. While a few achieve great wealth, hardworking engineers and Earth scientists do not have to “strike oil” to do well in their careers. There are many types of jobs in our industry with varying levels of opportunities and risks. But what about the reputation of our industry? Are we doing something important?
The reputation of the oil and gas extractive industry is undeservedly low, typically among the lowest in any survey. Only ExxonMobil appears on the 2015 Fortune list of the top 50 most admired companies. Our industry’s reputation is unfairly tarnished in part by rare, high visibility oil spills and by a lack of understanding of the importance of energy in our society. We really do something very important for the world. Our role in the world is often unappreciated.
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