Welcome John Butler: New Expert in the Oil & Gas Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Oil & Gas Group
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Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Feb 25, 2021

It’s no secret that the oil and gas sector have been the dominant force in energy for the past century. These fuels have allowed economies to industrialize, they’ve kept the lights on across the world, whilst enabling a more connected and mobile global community than ever before. But it goes without saying that these fossil fuels are coming under scrutiny for their impacts to the environment, public health, and the climate. Recognizing that this is the moment for oil and gas leaders to be facing the future and stepping up to transform their industry, the energy sector must now look to innovators and thought leaders who are driving this change.

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Many of those industry leaders can be found among the Energy Central Network of Experts connected to the Oil & Gas Group. Recently, added to that collection of official Energy Central Oil & Gas experts was John Butler. John is Director at Transition Ignition, and he has over 20 years in the industry, where he has watched the decarbonisation of the oil and gas industry go from just an idea to the current level of implementation.  

Among the reasons John joined our Network of Experts was to share the perspective from his front-row seat of this transformation, and the first step in doing so was participating in our Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’  Please keep reading to hear what John’s seeing, hearing, and embracing in the 21st century oil and gas sector:

Matt Chester: A chief goal of this new expert interview series is to allow your fellow community members to get to know you and understand what background and experience you are bringing to Energy Central. So let’s open broad and let you introduce yourself—what’s your background in the energy industry, how did you get involved, and what is your role these days?

John Butler: My career started in the Merchant Navy, and if you go back a little bit before that, I actually grew up in a seaside fishing village in the southeast of Ireland. My father was a commercial diver and had worked in salvage in the 1950s. I grew up in this marine environment. In a lot of aspects, growing up with this background shaped the development of my career. I grew up with a passion for o engineering,  after leaving school I studied Marine Engineering in Southampton. This led to my first engineering role in the Merchant Navy. I worked on board chemical tankers, where I travelled globally from United States, Far East, Southeast Asia, Australia andSouth America.

I spend over two and a half years as a marine engineer. At this time I knew I had a career path where I could've become a chief engineer, but I decided that I wanted to pursue a University degree and navigate my career towards a role onshore.

I decided to continue my studies in Scotland where I did a mechanical engineering degree, it was at this point that I went into the oil and gas industry. Since then I have spent the majority of the last 20 years working in a variety of different subsea construction designs, installation, maintenance roles within the oil and gas industry.

Then last year, after I left my last employer, I decided to take another career path. I wanted to explore the wider energy ecosystem within oil and gas, but also looking at energy transition and decarbonisation. This opened up this whole new world from offshore renewables in all its various different forms, hydrogen economy, blue economy, aquaculture. So still in the marine environment, but engineering and design with sustainability. That's where I've been working for the last year, working with industry, institutes and academia supporting hydrogen enablement and looking at technologies to build out of renewable infrastructure. I have  also presented at conferences and written articles on the blue economy and the energy transition in the marine industry.


MC: I’d love to hear more about your current role working on energy transition projects for decarbonization of offshore facilities. When did you get interested in working on the decarbonization of oil and gas and how did the transition to that focus area go, given the slow pathway some in the oil and gas industry have taken to look towards the energy transition?

John Butler: It's an interesting journey, when I left my last job, it wanted to take it as an opportunity to pivot my career, this became a natural break point which allowed be to assess different way to approach the energy transition conundrum. For a number of years I had become more focused on energy transition, and there's an increasing recognition that net zero targets and climate change was finally becoming more relevant when looking at energy production and use.

Around this time, I I started to speak with Madadh MacLaine CEO with Zero Emission Technology Limited, she was somebody who was not in oil and gas at all, but actually in maritime shipping, so for me it was like reverting back to my earlier career. Madadh was very much focused on sustainable and zero emission shipping with the primary energy vector being hydrogen, specifically green hydrogen. It was a great opportunity as I had a large oil and gas backgroundand had a clear understanding and appreciation of the industry.

To my mind hydrogen was an ideal source of energy to drive energy transition. It was also imperative that the oil and gas companies could visualize what energy transition meant for their industry. By using hydrogen as an energy vector it was possible to reimagine how the oil and gas operators and associated supply chain work with this alternative source of energy. A lot of what I do now is promote the potential of hydrogen to the traditional oil and gas supply chain.

My job often comes down to asking the question, “what is your value proposition?” So, really when you're looking at energy transition, you have to identify from an oil and gas perspective, what the value proposition is. Once you understand that, you have a goal to work towards. In order to allow the supply chain to diversify you have to reassess what the engineering consultancies and service companies provide and how this can be performed in alternative sectors, such as through offshore renewables, power & utilities, or maybe hydrogen. If you can get companies thinking differently and realize that there is stability in revenue as well as longevity in the activity, suddenly businesses can see the potential in the transition. From a sustainability and ethical perspective, there is an opportunity to meet your ESG’s and potentially SDG's. At the moment I am still trying to get your arms around all of that, which is a full-time job. But it's interesting

MC: Outside of the technical oil and gas projects you’ve had your hand in, you’ve also had extensive experience in the human and personnel side of the industry. What do you see as the greatest personnel-related challenge associated with the industry? What dynamics are you witnessing that others outside of your position may not see coming?

John Butler: I think there's two aspects to this question. The energy industry is changing at a huge pace right now. The drivers, attitudes and beliefs of graduates leaving universities now is far different than when I graduated. This is because they're whole perception of the world is different. I think it's very important to recognize the skillsets of the younger professionals coming through. One of the greatest challenges will be how do we nurture this talent and keep this intellect in the energy sector.

I remember hearing that in 20 years’ time, half the jobs that are going to be in the energy industry haven't even been invented yet. That for me is always a compelling yet challenging statement.. As an industry we have to be cognizant of this look to meet the expectation of our current and future workforce.  As I mentioned the industry is now changing at a rapid pace, whether it is digital twins, autonomous vehicles or cybersecurity, we have to reimagine what this is going to look like in the context of energy. What jobs and careers are going to grow out of digital enablement and energy transition? One this is for certain, we knowhey don't exist at the moment.

If we recognize these attitudes and behaviors of professionals coming into the industry, then we have an opportunity to create a career that they want to be a part of. It is one of my fears within the oil and gas industry, particularly with so much negative press, that young people don't go into the industry. It's a simple fact that in order to drive the energy transition agenda we need  more and more of the brightest and best brains over the next 20 to 30 years to achieve our climate goals by 2050. I think for us, as the leaders, we have to be open, respectful, understanding and show empathy for people to ensure that we're not shutting these younger professionals down or stopping them from achieving their full potential.  I’m a Bob Dylan fan ever since I was a kid, you always know a good lyricist because their words are timeless… To quote Dylan, “The times they are a changing.” We can’t expect young professionals to be the same as we were at their age, and that's the trick, that's the part we've got to try and figure out.


MC: Can you share what it is about Energy Central that compelled you to get involved and integrated with the community?

John Butler: What I like about Energy Central is the fact that you've got a number of different groups, so you can very easily  narrow down your field of the focus, for example energy. And if you want to look into multiple sectors, then you can easily set that up through your profile. This allow you to live stream specific topics that you can delve into and to look at articles or interest, the opinions, the questions, the polls, that you're specifically engaged with. A lot of what I try to do is ask questions and look for opinions, give opinions, and never be afraid to be challenged.

I'll often post something which has resulted in some great conversations., I may start with one point of view or a particular opinion and then somebody's challenged me. Occasionally, if you're very lucky that might happen. But a lot of times it's about knowledge, it’s about understanding people's opinions and sharing content and never being afraid to learn.


Thanks again to John Butler for joining our Expert Network and sharing his time and experience with the community. As you see John engaging across Energy Central, be sure to share any comments or questions with him to tap into his wealth of knowledge!

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Mar 4, 2021

Welcome, John.  I am looking forward wot seeing you in the community!

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