More Than A Regular Job

The FPSO Sendje Ceiba, offshore Equatorial Guinea.

This section of the magazine is a podium for young E&P professionals to address topics from their personal perspective. The columns are written by professionals under 35 and with fewer than 10 years of petroleum industry experience. Columnists are selected from a wide range of outspoken young professionals in our industry from different geographic regions, work functions, and companies. It will contain views on the petroleum industry as a whole and on professional and personal development. The columns focus on nontechnical topics such as career progression, professional soft skills, and reflections on events affecting the petroleum industry. The columns represent the personal viewpoint of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of any company or SPE.—Léon Beugelsdijk

How on Earth did I get here? Normally this is a question posed in the figurative sense, but on this occasion, I mean it quite literally.

I am swinging 80 ft above the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of west Africa, holding tightly to the outside of the rope mesh of the personnel basket, a 4-ft-wide doughnut- shaped object with a canvas tarp across the bottom and rope web- bing coming from the sides. The webbing meets at a point a few feet above my head and is attached to a longer rope that is then attached to the moving end of a crane. The crane arm swings toward the workboat and with it, the personnel basket, my duffel bag (safely sitting inside the mesh), and me.

I am not a member of an elite military squadron, nor am I the host of an extreme-sports reality show. In fact, this is all part of my work in the oil industry. Yes, that oil industry.

When I finished my engineering degree 10 years ago, I was looking for more than a regular job. Nabors Drilling offered just that sort of opportunity, and I soon found myself splitting time between field work on drilling rigs in east Texas and engineering work in the Houston office. It never really struck me how unique my job was until I moved to Nabors’ Denver office 2 years later. One morning I hopped in my truck and headed up to Wyoming to drill a well. I had plenty of time, so I took the back way through the Colorado mountains, stopping at midday for a sandwich in Steamboat Springs. I continued up to the Wyoming plains, arriving in Wamsutter in time to see a spectacular sunset. As I followed the unique directions along dirt roads to the rig (“drive 0.3 miles to the rusted car and turn right”), it hit me—I was heading out to direct a project worth more than a million dollars, with more than 20 people looking to me for direction.

My career continued to grow, offering me increasing responsibility and geographic variety. I soon found myself responsible for three offices and the hiring, training, and development of the employees in those offices, in addition to growing our customer base and increasing revenues and profits. During the dot-com boom, I took a 2-year hiatus for business school and once again forgot the uniqueness of my job. But I returned to the oil industry, this time on the operator side with Amerada Hess.

The oil industry has a way of reminding you that you don’t have just another job, and as the personnel basket lowers toward the deck of the workboat, I ask myself, who would want a regular job? I step onto the boat, my new home for the next week. There, I watch in awe as a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) installs equipment on the seafloor, 2,400 ft below the surface. To me, this is like having access to my own private spacecraft, or the world’s most incredible video game. In between ROV dives, I watch whales playing in the distance, and the nearby frolicking of flying fish, which occasionally miscalculate and find themselves on the deck of the workboat.

Of course, there is more to the oil industry than interesting locations and high-tech equipment—there’s people. Each day, I am extremely fortunate to learn from experienced professionals. The average technical professional in the industry is in his or her late 40s to mid-50s, meaning virtually everyone has not only a wealth of knowledge, but also fascinating stories to share. I am also inspired by the next generation. There has been much talk about the impending “big crew change,” but if you haven’t yet noticed, it is already here. Young professionals are reaching for new technical challenges, working with the huge experience base in the industry to push the limits—deeper, cheaper, faster, farther. These young professionals are educated at universities around the globe and arrive in the industry with the ability to digest massive amounts of information, filter the important facts with state-of-the-art computer skills, and discuss the implications in multiple languages. I am constantly reminded of the industry’s prospects for the future as I run into friends and colleagues at conferences in Malabo, Aberdeen, Amsterdam, and Houston.

The coast of Luba, Equatorial Guinea.

Finally, sitting on the coast of Africa, I am reminded daily of the importance of our industry. The energy industry provides the base upon which other industries are built. Without it, there is no fuel for transportation, no winter heating oil, no natural gas for power plants, and no plastics. Our industry’s contributions are every- where, and petroleum will continue to be the core of the energy industry long after my career is over. Even a “hydrogen economy” needs a plentiful supply of hydrogen. Since that element doesn’t occur naturally on Earth, the easiest source is, well, natural gas.

The industry is not for everyone, but for those of you who are looking for something more than a regular job, welcome. Bring your camera—we’ll supply the safety harness.

Michael A. Minyard joined the Management Development Program at Amerada Hess in 2002, undertaking assignments with drilling, procurement, and strategy in Houston and Aberdeen.  In August 2004, he began a rotational assignment in Equatorial Guinea as a Production Superintendent working on the deepwater Ceiba field.

Minyard began his career in the energy industry with Nabors Drilling in 1994, working as a roughneck in east Texas. Over the next 4 years, his positions included Drilling Engineer, Rig Supervisor, Alliance Coordinator, and Project Manager.  In 1998, he transferred to Epoch Well Services, a Nabors subsidiary, as a Div. Manager and Manufacturing Manager. After leading his division to record revenue growth, he left Nabors to attend business school.

Minyard earned a BS degree in mechanical engineering from Rice U. and an MBA degree in finance and entrepreneurship from the Wharton School at the U. of Pennsylvania.


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