The future of oil and gas lies in attracting young scientists and engineers

A next-generation workforce can unlock the potential of new technologies and offer much-needed resilience

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , October 31  – 2019 :- Students enquiring about the courses at the Al Ain University stand during the NAJAH higher education fair held at ADNEC in Abu Dhabi. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by John
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Our industry's most valuable resource is not the crude we drill for or the natural gas we produce. It is not even the advanced chemicals we refine. It is and will remain the workforce we nurture. We need to do more to attract young minds who will lead and modernise our industry. That means appealing to the creative brains of generations y and z. Right now we're facing stiff competition from other sectors.

In March, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company released a fascinating study of more than 3,000 students in the Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sector. The survey of undergraduates and young professionals from 10 countries revealed that 44 per cent were interested in pursuing a career in oil and gas. That is an encouraging number but with great room for improvement, when viewed alongside the 77 per cent who are drawn to the technology sector. Perhaps most importantly, the study found that the more an industry is associated with new technologies, the greater the interest in pursuing it as a career option.

The implications for the oil and gas industry are clear: if we can prove our own technological credentials, we will attract more Stem minds. This is a challenge, as almost half of the young Stem talent in Adnoc's study see oil and gas as an industry of the past. This perception is in fact far from the reality of our business. We must do a better job of demonstrating that the technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution – from artificial intelligence and the internet of things to big data and blockchain – are being tried and tested in the oil and gas sector.

Of 3,000 students surveyed, a study by Adnoc revealed that an encouraging 44 per cent wanted to pursue a career in oil and gas

At Occidental, early adopters of data analytics, we have incorporated machine learning into our drilling processes. Partnering with Adnoc in Abu Dhabi’s Shah field, we have revolutionised the development of sour gas. Besides improving the efficiency of sulphur production, we have transformed a previously uneconomical resource into a strategic asset for the UAE. Honing new production and refining methods will be crucial to meet the increased demand for cleaner natural gas in a growing, greener global economy. We should put exciting technological breakthroughs such as these at the core of our pitch to the next generation.

An approach that puts people first will help us tap the potential of technology. Not just that, it will also give our industry the best chance to meet current and future challenges. Consider our environmental responsibilities: only with a creative, skilled workforce can we offer sustainable solutions to climate change and resource scarcity. At Occidental, we count on industry leaders in enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a process that brings considerable environmental benefits. By prolonging the life of oil fields, our crews make more efficient use of existing hydrocarbon resources, reducing our impact on natural landscapes. One process that EOR relies on is carbon dioxide flooding: injecting carbon dioxide into oil reservoirs to release trapped oil and gas. This process has contributed immensely to our understanding of the capture and storage of carbon. Nurturing experts in this science will prove vital to reducing global emissions.

It is encouraging that Adnoc's flagship event, Adipec, will put people at the heart of the conversation. I am glad that it will again run its Young Adipec programme, which has already taught thousands of high school students about the diversity of career opportunities in our industry. Adnoc's own Oil and Gas 4.0 strategy – which stresses the need for a future-proof workforce along with cross-sector partnerships, environmental leadership and innovation – is certainly a philosophy that Occidental shares.

Our industry is a cradle of innovation. We must adopt the mindset of technology companies, attracting young scientists and engineers keen to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. As we navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the future of oil and gas will rest on its workforce.

Vicki Hollub is the president and chief executive of Occidental Petroleum