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Steve Louis's picture
Managing Director Eternal Energy

Executive for International Energy Related EPCI (Engineering, Procurement, Construction, Installation) Companies – Subsea & Onshore with Project Management, Engineering, Business Development,...

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Want an Energy Transition? Ask an Oil & Gas Engineer

image credit: Steve Louis

The Energy Transition is gaining momentum and will take an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to address our Nation’s power, fuel and zero carbon objectives.  So how do we approach this transition efficiently and with minimal disruptions? The answer may be found within the problem-solving capabilities of the time-tested oil and gas community.


Remembering the past

In the book Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil & Gas the authors write about many of the failures experienced during the infant stages of offshore O&G which happened to be the impetus for the first annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston, TX in 1969.  

It was a ‘forum for exchanging technical information and recognizing accomplishments…that same year the API published its first API Recommended Practice (RP) document for the design, fabrication, and installation of offshore platforms.’API now boasts over 700 standards which have been a work in progress for 10 decades.

All those years of tough lessons learned and meticulously written guidelines have enabled innovation that could not have been envisioned during those early years of oil & gas exploration and production.

So can this hard-earned oil and gas knowledge support the burgeoning Energy Transition industry?  We believe the answer is an emphatic “yes” because…


History repeats itself

As an astute industry leader recently asked a Managing Director at one of the most prominent Energy PE firms, “we are at the intersection of Conventional O&G and an Energy Transition,… so what are we going to do?

Advancements in wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, electrification and power storage have all made great strides in the past decade which is impressive considering that the underlying technologies themselves span several decades.  For instance the oldest windmill in existence is nearly 600 years old and is in, of course, the Netherlands.

We can all admit that O&G has been slow to adopt new technologies, primarily due to the high-risk potential that a failure could cause. And like many industries we are at the mercy of the quarterly earnings report, focusing on short-term goals rather than the longstanding sustainable benefits that innovation can bring.  Not to mention that R&D is typically one of the first and deepest cuts to a budget in a downturn of which we have seen 4 major ones in the past 13 years.

So how will these Cleantech opportunities be able to manifest themselves in the short timeframe as decreed by the nation members of the Paris agreement? 


We have a lot in common

The technical challenges for renewable energy and carbon capture are not unlike those faced in oil and gas.  Offshore wind requires massive foundations and moorings to maintain stability given the turbine’s high center of gravity.  This is an area of strength for O&G given the many semi-submersibles, spars, and fixed jackets around the world.

Flow assurance challenges and corrosion issues can plague geothermal and carbon sequestration just like the over 3 million miles of onshore pipelines and drill pipe worldwide.

And when we consider the design, manufacturing, logistics, installation, and operational demands facing the renewable sector, the problems are seemingly insurmountable which is why problem solvers will always be in demand.

Perhaps we often dismiss an O&G engineer candidate who is applying for a renewable energy position because they may lack the specific renewables experience we deem necessary.  But the experience they do have is in solving complex problems, integrating technology safely, and executing projects within budget and schedule even when those budgets are squeezed and schedules are accelerated.


Working together for a common goal

The challenges for emerging technologies have never been higher given the additional expectations for ESG, the constantly changing supply and demand from a globalized market, and the existential threat of climate change.

Already we see cross pollination between O&G and renewables as drillers are now utilizing batteries on their jackups to reduce emissions.  Wave motion buoys are providing a steady supply of power to portions of subsea fields reducing the need for diesel generators or long umbilicals extending back to shore.

The other good news is that we have over 107,000 oil, gas, and chemical industry professionals in the U.S. who are sitting on the sidelines waiting for their chance to help solve those challenges.2

The technology exists, it is those O&G engineers who know how to apply it in a strategic manner that minimize costs and disruptions.  After all, technology is just a tool, it is the people who give it a purpose.


About the Author

Steve Louis is a Managing Director at Eternal Energy LLC based in Houston Texas.  Eternal Energy is a business advisory firm with offices in Houston and Dubai which specializes in helping Energy clients define and execute their growth strategies. He can be reached at  slouis@eternal-nrg.com.

Keywords

#energytransition #oilandgas #operationalefficiency #technology #offshore #geothermal #solar #wind #carboncapture #hydrogen #hydropower #cleantech #OTC #ESG #climatechange @eternal-nrg

Ref. 1. Offshore Pioneers; J.Pratt, T.Priest, C.Castaneda, 1997

Ref. 2 Fortune Magazine, K.Dunn, 4 Oct 2020

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 28, 2021

The technology exists, it is those O&G engineers who know how to apply it in a strategic manner that minimize costs and disruptions.  After all, technology is just a tool, it is the people who give it a purpose.

This is very well said! And especially as the energy transition  happens and whole communities find the industries that had been so great to them economically may be on the downswing, finding how to best retrain and tap into the expertise of these engineers for more forward-looking jobs is a great mindset to have. 

With that said, are you seeing any resistance to some of the old timers in oil and gas who feel resistant to such changes? 

Steve Louis's picture
Steve Louis on Apr 29, 2021

It is human nature to fear change, and much of the oil & gas industry is actually about change management.

I prefer to use the term 'continual improvement' because technology is foundational and what we learn today can be applied to doing things better tomorrow.  

And when it comes to the Energy Transition, the future is now.

David Rogers's picture
David Rogers on Apr 29, 2021

Great narrative, innovation transference from hydrocarbons to renewables, a trained workforce poised to facilitate transition. 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on May 1, 2021

I'd never ask an oil and gas engineer for advise on transitioning to renewable energy. They haven't done much to help so far. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 3, 2021

I think that's a bit short-sighted, Jim-- plus there's a big difference between the oil and gas companies and their heads and the engineers who have such in dept knowledge that can be used: offshore platform engineering that can be used for offshore wind; on-shore drilling that can be used for developing new geothermal resources, etc. 

Steve Louis's picture
Steve Louis on May 4, 2021

Hi Jim, I respect your opinion and therefore ask for clarification on what would you have expected engineers at O&G companies to do more of?

One example that just came up the other day was that for offshore wind they anticipate nearly $500M worth of power cables needing replacement already due to abrasion from lateral movement against rocks.

My team back in the day were well versed on pipe walking and subsea cable management and protection for all our subsea umbilicals, risers, flowlines and flying leads.  This easily could have been avoided.

What do you think?

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on May 4, 2021

That cable laying does no impress me. I worked in Telecommunications and we have had a long history of TAT cables including repeaters. Our newest fiber optics cable don't even require repeaters. 

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