The knowledge base

Feb. 4, 2008
The oil and gas industry’s worry over the loss of its petroleum engineering and geological knowledge base to an expected wave of retirements may not be as warranted as once thought.

The oil and gas industry’s worry over the loss of its petroleum engineering and geological knowledge base to an expected wave of retirements may not be as warranted as once thought. At least a recent announcement by the Society of Petroleum Engineers may nudge some toward thinking so.

In late January SPE reported that its membership had reached a record high. At yearend 2007 SPE’s combined worldwide professional and student membership reached 79,300, up 8% from yearend 2006. The organization’s membership has, in fact, climbed steadily over the last several years, rising 23% since 2004.

One of the more notable—and encouraging—facts about this steady membership climb is the rise in the number of SPE members under age 35, SPE said. At yearend 2007, 21% of SPE members, or 12,716, were under 35, up from 20% in 2006 and 14% in 2000, SPE said.

Much of this growth is attributable to a rise in total student members, which at yearend 2007 reached a record 18,700 compared with 16,800 at yearend 2006. Total professional members of SPE, meanwhile, also showed a gain, reaching 60,600 in 2007 vs. 56,500 a year before.

SPE said the increase in young professionals and students is “an important indicator that more young people are entering the upstream industry,” thus helping to reverse the aging of the profession.

Bill Cobb, 2008 SPE president, noted, “We are especially pleased with the 11% increase in student members, which shows that young people are attracted by the bright career opportunities in the upstream industry.” While viewing the recent data optimistically, Cobb added, “I don’t think we can draw conclusions about the entire industry from our membership statistics, but what is clear is that there are large numbers of young professionals entering the industry, which is something that is sorely needed.”

Regional breakdown

Interesting also was the regional breakdown of SPE’s 2007 membership. SPE members, who come from 110 countries, increased in practically every region in 2007, SPE said, with the largest growth occurring in the Middle East region, including India. Membership from this region increased 15% to 6,827.

Other areas showing a boost in membership in 2007 vs. 2006 included the Northern Asia-Pacific region, including China, up 10% to 3,699; the Rocky Mountain North America region, up 9% to 6,069; and the South-Central and Eastern Europe region, including Russia, up 7% to 3,114.

SPE said areas with new sections include Mauritania, Brazil, Chad, India, and two in the US: Seattle and Grand Junction, Colo.

New chapters were added at universities in Russia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Iran, Congo, Nigeria, the UK, Canada, and Qatar, bringing to 179 the number of SPE student chapters—150 of them outside the US.

Courting youth

Many oil companies work to capture and keep young people’s interest in the industry. It is oil companies as well that help to fund industry organizations.

Chevron Corp., for one, sponsors the SPE student membership program and is underwriting the university student annual membership dues for the next 2 years.

Attracting young talent is not limited to the US, of course. One example occurred Jan. 26-28 when 14 graduate students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology were flown on a Saudi Aramco plane to Shaybah oil and gas field to visit the company’s facilities.

The students, all members of the MIT Energy Club, represented disciplines including mechanical engineering, business management, and geothermal energy. Their itinerary included tours of the remote Shaybah complex and the Ras Tanura refinery.

An Aramco company publication reported that the students left Saudi Arabia impressed with the area and the company. Between tours there were sand-dune races and sand-castle building. After a traditional meal of kabsa, the visitors received a vial of sand from the dunes.

“I don’t need this,” Dave Bradwell, a material sciences student, was reported as saying. “I’m taking enough home that’s on me.”

There’s no doubt that the investment of a vile of sand will pay back the company—as well as industry—more than a sandstorm of riches.