An opportunity for industry it indeed was, and yet the turnout of oil&gas bosses to the first joint Energy Institute/Aberdeen and The Robert Gordon universities MSc projects seminar was dismal.
Indeed, their absence earned them a sharp rebuke from one of the few who turned up to listen to what he described as four superb presentations; moreover, they eclipsed his expectations.
Yes, there was an audience for the four core presenters at An Opportunity for Industry – two from each university – but they were mostly fellow students and staff from the two institutions.
However, the seminar demonstrated the ability of Aberdeen, RGU and the EI student chapters in Aberdeen to work towards a common purpose – educating and launching large numbers of petroleum and sustainable energy MSc graduates into a marketplace that is said to be crying out for the next generation of energy sector leaders and doers.
The presentations were surprisingly diverse and embraced by engineering, per se, and management-orientated topics. Deliveries were by Thelma Ochonogor and Livingstone Afolabi, of RGU, plus Dilip Nair and Zubi-Emele Onyii of Aberdeen.
Afolabi’s Master’s dissertation focused on the challenging issue of the use of “stablefoam” in under-balanced drilling (UBD) of depleted reservoirs. He highlighted the fact that, within the offshore industry, there was poor knowledge of stablefoam properties.
While he refrained from highlighting the relatively poor uptake of UBD among North Sea operators despite widespread and successful application in North America, Afolabi highlighted its advantages and the value of using stablefoam technology to eliminate borehole rock formation damage and elimination of differential sticking problems.
However, during a later Q&A session, it emerged that Afolabi experienced huge difficulty in getting operators to share real data for incorporating into the modelling phase of his research. Notwithstanding, he said the results of his modelling work turned out to be “remarkably accurate”.
Onyii focused on industry internships – their shortcomings and value to the student. Among shortcomings identified was the fact that some students were paid little or nothing in the way of a stipend by their “employer” and they were given menial tasks to do instead of being challenged in a way that could deliver real benefit to the company and the student. She highlighted the fact that internships must work for both sides of the contract and that an internship could be regarded as a “real-world experience” which counted in the student’s favour when hitting the jobs market.
“An internship can build confidence, professionalism and profile,” she said, adding that it can also help in terms of access to more learning tools, networking opportunities and employment possibilities.
For the company, having an internship programme could deliver potential high-calibre employees, enhance corporate reputation as a company that understands the needs to nurture the next generation, help reduce rather than increase costs and provide a valuable “in-house” research resource.
Onyii’s parting shot aimed at companies that wanted only people with experience was: “Think about this: that expert with 20 years of experience at one time had no experience, but he was given a chance.”
Ochonogor concentrated on carbon, arguing that producing and exporting to shore natural gas with a CO content and then stripping it out onshore and sending it back offshore was wasteful and pointless. If StatoilHydro could strip out the CO at Sleipner before exporting produced gas, surely others could, too.
She highlighted the potential advantages of incorporating amine sweetening or Fluor solvents technologies into new infrastructure, depending on the gas composition of a particular reservoir.
For retrofits, she advocated the possible application of membrane technology or a compact hybrid process for stripping the greenhouse gases out of the produced gas stream.
Nair concentrated on the vexed question of effective leadership among operating companies. During his research, he particularly linked with two companies – one a large and established stakeholder/producer, the other a new-generation entity that had recently bought its way into producing assets in UK waters.
He argued that today’s leaders had to convince employees that it was worthwhile staying and that the bosses had both a charismatic role to play, plus an “architectural” role. It turned out that most were probably better at being charismatic than architectural – for example, communicating vision versus being clear about organisational set-up.
Nair warned: “Gone are the days when a leader could force his opinion on an employee.”
He added that short-termism remained a problem, and there was a dearth of effective leadership.
In the wider discussion that followed, it emerged that the huge oil&gas cluster present in the north-east of Scotland was very poor at stepping up to the plate and offering petroleum engineering MSc student places.
It was suggested that the EI, Oil & Gas UK, Offshore Contractors Association and other bodies should work with key universities such as Aberdeen and RGU to, in effect, offer a UK-wide brokering service that would ultimately be to everyone’s advantage, especially the industry itself.