Offshore Europe Chairmen Share Views on Industry

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The SPE Offshore Europe Conference and Exhibition, the largest upstream oil and gas conference outside of North America, will take place in Aberdeen on 8–11 September.

Michael Engell-Jensen, keynote chairman, and Charles Woodburn, technical chairman of the conference, share their perspectives on the conference and the industry.

Why was “How to Inspire the Next Generation” selected as the theme of the conference?

Michael Engell-Jensen: Oil and gas will remain indispensable to the world for securing heat, light, mobility and prosperity for many decades to come. According to the International Energy Agency, the world’s energy supply mix will divide into four almost equal parts by 2040: oil, gas, coal, and low-carbon sources (World Energy Outlook 2014). At the same time, the extraction of oil and gas resources will become more challenging. Sourcing skilled, innovative, and motivated people—and enough of them—is essential for the industry to be successful in meeting this demand now and into the future.

Charles Woodburn: The choice of this year’s theme encourages our industry to address both the technical and people challenges facing the oil and gas business today. At the heart of this is our need to attract and encourage the next generation of talent into our industry. With our continued strong technical program, combined with an enhanced schools program, we are focused on delivering these two areas hand in hand.

Do you expect today’s lower oil price to affect participation in the conference?

MEJ: The event’s organizer, the Offshore Europe Partnership, reports that the exhibition is all but sold out and that registrations for this free-to-attend event are ahead of those for 2013 at this time.

Aberdeen has a long-established reputation as a global center of expertise across the supply chain and thus, remains a magnet for both international exhibitors and visitors. Around 1,500 organizations are expected this year, including at least 280 companies, large and small, exhibiting for the first time at the show.

I believe that attendance at SPE Offshore Europe is essential if you need to keep abreast of technological progress and want a better understanding of the global framework conditions that will influence your operations for years to come.

CW: In the current difficult market conditions, attendance at large events such as Offshore Europe arguably becomes even more important. It provides a global industry platform to enhance your industry knowledge, discover new technology, and connect with individuals and companies drawn from North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe—all under one roof. While we are all very conscious of financial and budgetary pressures, we hope that everyone can become involved in the conference at some level, from attending technical presentations to displaying at the conference.

What do you hope to accomplish at Offshore Europe?

MEJ: As a responsible industry, we must address society’s concerns about our operations and the hydrocarbons on which the world relies. Our license to operate depends on regulators and wider society seeing the industry as both acceptable and useful.

The keynote program will deal with important elements of the framework within which the industry is likely to have to operate for at least the next 5 years. It will focus on the basic challenge of meeting energy demand while balancing concerns over climate change, security of supply, and consumer affordability. This challenge incorporates related issues: the well-being of our people and neighboring communities, environmental risks, and the safety and security of upstream assets. Throughout, we will remain mindful that our industry is, above all, about people—those people that we need to attract, train, develop, motivate, and retain.

My committee’s brief is to create an event that will appeal to an international audience. The keynote session topics are overwhelmingly relevant to both aspiring and seasoned industry professionals as well as those whose primary focus is on safeguarding society. Together, we will try to create panels comprising speakers with distinct messages and, where possible, differing views. We want a relevant and lively debate.

CW: We are continuing to push the boundaries, showcasing technology that is designed to meet the current and future needs of the industry. This is reflected in both Michael’s keynote program and our technical program of SPE papers.

At the heart of this is our theme for 2015 of how to inspire the next generation, which was chosen before the current industry downturn. Recent events should focus our attention on the increased challenge this brings. The short-term impact on our industry has undoubtedly cast a shadow over the sector and its attractiveness to new and emerging talent.

As the past has taught us, we cannot afford to lose our next generation as they play a vital part in advancing safety, innovation, and the technology our industry demands. While we must take action to respond to these challenging conditions, we need to maintain our focus on the high-quality workforce of the future.

To support this, we have developed an enhanced schools program that now engages with 13- to 14-year-old pupils, all the way up to university students and teachers. This will ensure that we promote the full potential of the industry, particularly to those in the age groups who have not yet made the key choices in selecting their career path.

What are the major issues affecting the offshore industry?

CW: The biggest challenges we have in the industry today are managing costs and encouraging collaboration.

Costs need to be controlled through standardization, the appropriate use of technology, and fit-for-purpose engineering solutions. Increased collaboration between operators and service companies will not only facilitate appropriate field development plans, but also drive better project execution.

MEJ: While the offshore industry will always depend on new, smarter, and more cost-effective technologies to access the ever more difficult to access resources, our future ultimately lies in the hands of our people.

We need to attract, develop, motivate, and retain the brightest talent. Firstly, we need to encourage more people to study science and engineering and then to apply their knowledge in the oil and gas industry. Secondly, while we can excite people with the technological challenges presented by our industry, we are competing with many other sectors like IT (information technology) that are generally rated more favorably. This situation is aggravated further by cycles of oil and gas industry layoffs and fluctuations in employment opportunities.

And finally, the young generation needs to trust that we are committed to protecting their health and welfare as well as their safety and security. There are no easy answers, but we have taken on the task of finding some solutions.

As an industry, we also need to change behaviors. Collaboration and standardization are two key areas in which we can work together so that everyone gains. A good example, which will be presented as part of the keynote program, is the Global Industry Response Group (GIRG) set up by IOGP (International Association of Oil & Gas Producers) in the wake of the Macondo incident to identify, learn from, and apply the lessons of Macondo and similar well incidents.

Following the publication of the GIRG recommendations, IOGP created three entities comprising international operator experts to manage and implement them: Wells Expert Committee, Subsea Well Response Project, and Oil Spill Response Joint Industry Project.

As the chief executive officer of Expro, what kind of technologies will your company be highlighting at the conference?

CW: Expro is focused on partnering with customers to introduce engineered solutions that reduce field development and operating costs, and enhance production.

During Offshore Europe, Expro will showcase how we can deliver value to clients in four key areas:

  • Improved understanding of the reservoir to reduce uncertainties
  • Enhanced production from existing fields
  • Managing well integrity risk to safeguard assets and production
  • Improving drilling and subsea completion efficiency

These engineered solutions come from the subsurface expertise that Expro has built—our core products, services, and latest technologies—and EGIS (Expro Group Integrated Services). These technologies include our cableless telemetry systems, which can provide wireless, long-term monitoring in production, suspended, and abandoned well applications.

From a production enhancement perspective, we will be promoting our cost-effective, nonintrusive sonar flowmeters that enable our customers to optimize their lift and production systems without well intervention or loss of production.

Our well integrity management software system, SafeWells, and cased hole services allow an operator to assess and manage risk to safeguard their assets and production. From a well construction perspective, our tubing-conveyed perforating, subsea completion strings, and PowerChokes automatic backpressure technology also facilitate improved drilling and completions efficiency.

What key technology trend do you expect to see in the offshore industry over the next 5 years?

CW: The subsea industry continues to be an area of significant interest and continued growth and, in the pursuit of more challenging reservoirs and deepwater waters, there is a move toward higher pressure-rated subsea systems. Our goal is for our subsea safety systems and equipment to be standardized at 20 ksi. However, this presents a number of significant challenges driven by the dimensional limitations of the subsea test tree, the increased size and weight of risers, and the rig handling of this equipment.

How will the downturn in oil prices affect investment in deep and ultradeep offshore fields?

CW: In a low oil price environment, operators face a number of difficult challenges through which the industry is stepping up to support with a range of efficiency, cost control, and collaborative measures.

Despite the current downturn, opportunities in deep and ultradeepwater offshore fields do exist and in many cases, these fields remain economic to develop and produce. However, to succeed as an industry, we must continue to invest in both our people and technology, as we work smarter, collaborate more, and focus on maximizing the potential of these fields.

Several companies are focusing on subsea solutions. Will the industry create a set of integrated solutions that will allow the complete removal of the offshore platform?

CW: The subsea sector is at the heart of many of the major technological advances, and also challenges, in the oil and gas industry.

Despite the industry’s desire to see as much activity as possible transferred to the seabed, it will likely take many years before we can remove the offshore platform from all developments. However, the passion to innovate has always been strong in the oil and gas industry and with greater collaboration, things could move faster.

Process automation companies are developing solutions to monitor and operate offshore oil fields remotely. Are these solutions ideal in the operation of offshore fields given the health, safety, and environmental (HSE) issues that may arise in the case of a failure?

CW: There are several examples of fields around the world that are being run at enhanced efficiencies because of greater process automation. As an industry, we are moving toward the “digitalization” or remote operation of the oil field. This approach has certain HSE benefits in terms of reduced personnel requirements or elimination of human error, and real-time optimization benefits.

However, it will probably be quite some time before remote operations become standard practice. Even then, given the consequences of catastrophic events, it is likely that facilities with remote operations capabilities will still need to have some monitoring oversight of on-site production personnel, just as we continue to have pilots on planes that could fly by itself using computer software.

How has the lower oil price affected your company’s business outlook?

CW: Expro continues to closely monitor the market conditions, aligning our approach to support our clients’ needs.

The initial oil price crash undoubtedly caught the industry by surprise, but we reacted quickly with a number of measures to realign our cost base. Industry leaders, analysts, and commentators have expressed a wide range of opinions about the recovery. However, we are all aligned in one vitally important regard: The market will eventually recover as longer-term supply and demand rebalance.

Many of us have worked in the industry for a number of years and have experienced several prior market cycles. As engineers and managers, the test we currently face is best measured by how we adapt and change to current demands.

At Expro, we are focusing on solutions that can reduce development costs and enhance production. We aim to come out of this cycle stronger and more flexible.

Which services or products are in highest demand?

CW: Expro is seeing continued demand for its products and services, but we are also seeing strong levels of interest in our subsea landing string capabilities as deepwater operators plan for future field developments. From Expro’s perspective, the deepwater and subsea market sectors clearly show great promise in the coming years.

The need to increase production from existing assets is also evident from the interest shown in our production systems, metering, and well intervention services. Industry focus on well integrity does not appear to have been hampered by the current cycle and is also generating significant interest in our well integrity management system capabilities.

Finally, as we emerge from the current market down cycle, we anticipate a ramp-up in exploration and appraisal activity.

In which areas of service do you expect to see the most demand?

CW: We see interest in our services across all regions. Interest in subsea landing strings is prevalent in most deepwater basins from Brazil, Europe, West and Southeast Africa, and Asia. The demand for our production enhancement solutions clearly stems from regions in which there are brownfields facing continued production decline with water, solids, and flow assurance issues.

Michael Engell-Jensen, executive director of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, has more than 30 years’ experience in the upstream oil and gas industry. Previously, he was the managing director of Maersk Oil in the UK and Qatar, corporate senior vice president of business development, and corporate senior vice president of carbon and climate. Engell-Jensen holds a PhD in applied nuclear physics from the Technical University of Denmark.


Charles Woodburn has been the chief executive officer of Expro since September 2010, following 15 years with Schlumberger where he held several senior management roles, including president of wireline and vice president of engineering, manufacturing, and sustaining. Woodburn holds a PhD in engineering from the University of Cambridge.

Offshore Europe Chairmen Share Views on Industry

Abdelghani Henni, JPT Middle East Editor

01 July 2015

Volume: 67 | Issue: 7

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