“It’s all about people,” said the silver-haired US oil industry senior as I headed past one of a number of in-show broadcast screens here at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.
With a McDermott logo in the background, I instantly jumped to the conclusion that he belonged to the heavy end of the industry, including offshore fabrication.
The encounter with the screen visage lasted but seconds; I just happened to capture a few very key words … “It’s all about people”.
My mind instantly flipped back to a John S Herold report of 2000 that said the US oil and gas industry had fired a million workers over the prior 20 years, leaving something around 339,000 people still gainfully employed in the US Gulf of Mexico, offshore California and in “nodding donkey” land.
That massive cull was absolutely all about bottom lines; the people were a disposable commodity. I wonder if the person I saw on the screen was among those who wielded the axe. Or maybe he was a survivor or victim of the cull. I will of course never know.
The Herold report appeared during the dark days of the late 1990s when, of course, the jobs axe was being swung with some vigour on both sides of the North Atlantic. It is one of those facts of life. This is what companies have always done if pushed into a corner.
And don’t forget the spate of oil company mergers and mopping up within the supply chain that took place on both sides of the Atlantic.
I have no hard evidence to back this assertion, but I do wonder whether more damage was inflicted on US oil & gas activity by the late 1990s slump than in the North Sea.
Why might that be?
I believe one key reason to be the two major North Sea initiatives of the 1990s, both designed around making the province more competitive globally and which provided ready-made foundations for the Oil & Gas Industry Task Force to be created in order to drag the North Sea out of the late 90’s slump.
During the dark days of the late 90s, an in depth study was commissioned to discover how many UK jobs owed their existence to upstream oil & gas. That research came up with around 400-450,000 jobs; many more than had been supposed.
Remarkably, that number has remained relatively stable… the latest estimate being 440,000 direct and indirect jobs, with Aberdeen claiming the greatest concentration.
Indeed, the Granite City is more prosperous than I can ever remember, despite North Sea maturity. Houston is on a wave too; but the background is different. Thanks to the shale gas and oil boom, the US has quite literally turned the tables on declining production.
Upstream US employs more than 900,000 according to a new study. In just 13 years, it would seem that well over half a million new oil and gas-related jobs have been created.
But will that people resource really be valued? I wonder.
However, the aisles here at OTC are for sure heaving with human capital!