Pillars of Industry

A Decade of Career Choices and Defining Moments

In 2000, information technology employers were the companies with the most prominent campus recruitment efforts, but I wanted to enter the energy domain. At the time, options were limited and wireline logging and perforating engineering were among the only domains to enter.

Looking back, it was the best thing to have happened. Oil was trading at about USD 30/bbl with energy needs continuing to grow in emerging economies such as China and India. The ongoing need for oil would keep demand high for oilfield workers—an observation I made early on.

Multiple Oilfield Services Career Options

Most new graduates begin their careers as trainees in the field. For many, after only a few years of working in the field, the question becomes when and how to pursue alternative opportunities. There is no easy answer.

The last 10 years have provided a variety of options. Today, the industry needs people with deep knowledge—subject-matter experts—as well as those who are jacks of all trades, understanding an operation from a holistic perspective. Different domains, such as geology, geophysics, petrophysics, and drilling and completions, are evolving toward a common goal of improving overall efficiency through collaboration on a common platform. A driller needs to understand the subsurface to optimize drilling and a subsurface expert needs to understand drilling limitations to optimize well placement.

I moved from wireline to directional drilling in 2005.

It couldn’t have been a better time to move from one domain to the other. Operators were realizing the potential of increasing well production through high-angled profiles, and also, in India, the focus moved from offshore to land wells. Land wells offer a good career buffer zone, where trainees can go as additional hands and develop their skills. The only downside was that I had to start over again as a trainee.

Was it worth it? Yes.

The reason is simple: When we graduate from college and get into a particular domain, it is the best domain available to us at the time, but we do not know if we want to stay within it throughout a long-term career. After some experience, we learn about other options available in the industry and we want to try them out. Remember the saying “Grass looks greener on the other side.”

You will work on average 35 to 40 years before retiring. If after 3 or 4 years you get the urge to change domains, you could ask yourself: “Would it be OK to try it and not like it? Or not try it and then regret it?”

With 5 years’ experience, I could have gone back to wireline anytime but I chose to broaden my skills and stick to drilling. Some of my colleagues pursued their career with wireline and they are now domain experts and product champions; some became coordinators and moved to bigger roles managing multiple product service lines; some like me changed domains but are continuing in field operations. All of us have some unique and satisfying career options to pursue and that is what pursuing multiple career options in the services industry can do for you.

I made the transition from a multitude of field roles to an office-based job managing well engineering services for Halliburton Consulting.

My field experience helps me immensely with our clients—providing me with quick insight into understanding how to tackle problems and then guiding a team toward reaching the optimum solution.

The Decade’s Defining Moments

In my opinion, two major events have defined drilling activity over the past 10 years.

One is the rise in crude oil prices from about USD 40/bbl to about USD 100/bbl, with some declines in 2008 and 2009. The reason is due largely to growth in demand from developing economies.

The other, sadly, is the US Gulf of Mexico Macondo blowout and explosions on 20 April 2010 and the associated aftereffects.

The bottom line, however, is that crude oil prices have hovered between USD 80 and USD 100/bbl since 2009 and growth has continued in unconventional and deepwater developments previously considered economically marginal.

“Unconventional” refers to exploiting shale or tight formations as a source of hydrocarbons by means of inducing fractures in the promising pay zones. Such field development requires extensive planning—from seismic through to stimulation.

Any such initiative requires the cooperation of a multidisciplinary team consisting of a geophysicist, petrophysicist, geologist, reservoir engineer, stimulation engineer, geomechanics expert, and drilling and completions engineer.

Deepwater exploration and development is another important activity that has increased in the past 10 years. There is an increase in rig activity drilling in deep water reaching 3000 m. The cost of running deepwater operations is much higher than onshore or shallow-water operations, but expoiting deepwater plays is justified due to high crude prices.

After the Macondo incident, safety regulations have become stricter. Deepwater well designs have to pass through level 1 and level 2 certification for an uncontrolled blowout. Geomechanics has now become an important consideration for well design including pre-drill, real-time, and post-drill activities.

The company where I work provides real-time pore-pressure analysis on rigs and in their real-time operations centers. In addition, different operators across the world can see the same 3D geomechanical model of a particular field. A pre-drill, real-time, and post-drill geomechanical analysis is very useful to ascertain the pore-pressure profile and stress regime in the wellbore. This results in safer drilling practices, greater drilling efficiency, and improved knowledge-sharing for better in-situ modeling of well geomechanics.

What we have seen over the past 10 years is the integration of data with real-time operations. The approach toward solutions is becoming increasingly predictive rather than post-mortem.

Currently, we have software and processing power that can perform predictive modeling for a number of outcomes at each exploration and production stage, from reservoir modeling to well design. Operators are entering the field with more insight than ever before. Even wildcat wells are being drilled drawing insight from 3D seismic data with much more information about the subsurface compared to what was previously available.

In addition, many new logging tools and techniques are under development to provide more subsurface information, based on reservoir fluid sampling, azimuthal and deep resistivity, micro imaging, dipole sonic with multiple wave data, neutron activation logs, and more. These new technologies, when interpreted correctly, can give an operator better insight into where to drill, how to drill, how to complete, and how to produce the reservoir most efficiently.

What to Expect During the Next 10 Years?

Over the next 10 years, we will continue to see growth in unconventional and deepwater activities. Mature field re-development, infill well drilling, and improved recovery will also be areas of continued growth going forward.

“Digital oilfield” will be the starting point of any oil-and-gas-related activity in the future.

Visualization platforms that can integrate seismic, geologic, reservoir and drilling data will give operators the information with which to make intelligent decisions; these integrated information visualization platforms hold the key to optimizing reservoir performance. These digital oilfields might be based on artificial intelligence networks and could be self-learning. The process has already begun; it starts with larger operators entering the process earlier and eventually the technology percolates down to smaller companies. The modules on the visualization platforms will be updated regularly as the new data comes from field operations.

Exploration and development teams of the future will be working as a team more than ever before. Instead of each domain having a vertical structure, there will be a need to form horizontal teams comprising personnel from several different domains.

These teams would collectively use the integrative digital oilfield to maximize returns by simulating all future activities to be carried out over the life of the well. Under such circumstances, old ideas and methodologies for well management would be subject to constant challenge that could give way to strategies that appear to be more effective.

Recommendations for Early-Career Professionals

Over the past 10 years we have seen tremendous growth in the energy industry, with unconventionals, especially in the US, becoming an economically and technically viable option.

Wells with increasing complexity and depth (e.g., extended-reach drilling) are being drilled today that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago.

Such growth will continue to be assisted by improvements in 3D visualization techniques.

Safety and environmental considerations will become more defined and stringent as a result of the loss of life and wealth due to the Macondo incident that shook the entire industry.

The most significant contributions will come from the mindsets of those willing to change and adapt to new and innovative ideas, however challenging they might sound.

Vivek Sharma is the well engineering services manager for Halliburton Consulting in the Asia Pacific region, where he is in charge of a team of drilling engineers and geomechanics specialists. He is also a subject-matter expert on industry standard drilling software and drilling engineering and conducts training courses on these subjects. With over 14 years’ experience in the upstream oil and gas industry across leading service providers, Sharma has previously worked as a wireline engineer, LWD (logging-while-drilling) engineer, senior directional driller, and drilling advisor. He joined the oil industry after graduating in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing process and automation engineering from Delhi University, India. Currently, Sharma is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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