Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This I believe

I believe in the power of technology to take what was once considered unattainable, and make it commonplace. My mother grew up in a community where you had to go next door to use the one available telephone, and now I personally carry no less than 5 telecommunication devices everywhere I go. But I also believe that with this comes the responsibility for adapting our lives so that we remain the owners of technology, and not slaves to it. I work in the oil and gas exploration industry, a business intensely driven by technology. Partly because of the advances that I have helped to engineer, there exists today the ability to deliver energy from and to places that once would have been considered impossible. From the deepest depths of the oceans to the most inhospitable climates on the planet, I have done my part to assist the world’s people in consuming energy at 5000 times the rate that it can potentially be preserved by biological and geological processes.

Those who know me, my environmental bent, and my appreciation for nature, often ask me how I reconcile my occupation with my conscience. My mastery of technology has led to conveniences and advances that would have been unthinkable to my parents, and I know it will continue to lead my children to fulfill dreams that in my younger days lived only in the pages of science fiction magazines. What I try to remember is that just because I CAN do these things, this does not necessarily mean I SHOULD. The object lessons of the darker side of energy use lie buried in a thin layer of easily identifiable dust in the sediments under Hiroshima Japan, and stare at me every day from newspaper headlines about ozone holes and global warming.

But I believe what physicist Richard Feynman left on his last blackboard at Cal Tech before he died in February of 1989. “What I cannot create, I do not understand”. What I attempt to heed is the corollary – “What I do create, I must understand.” The same technology that I apply every day to help generate energy can and must be used to communicate how that energy can be used wisely, efficiently and responsibly. So I make a point to take the same technology that allows me to gather and accumulate the knowledge I use every day in my job, and use it to disseminate messages like this one, as widely as the energy that I help to course around our globe. In this way, I remain the master of my technology, not its slave. This I Believe.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Great Crew Change

There has been a lot of chatter recently in the oil and gas industry about what is termed "The Great Crew Change". For those of you not in the industry, a crew change on an offshore oil rig means that the guys who have been working out there for the last few weeks or months, and know every intimate detail of the operation and equipment, pack up and head for shore, while a fresh team arrives on board and invariably spends the first few days familiarizing themselves with the peculiarities and quirks of the unique local processes, probably re-inventing solutions that left with the previous crew.

The "Great Crew Change" is used to describe the fact that because of the cyclical nature of this industry, most of the senior technicians and managers in the industry today were hired during the "boom" of the late 1970's to mid 1980's (remember the bumper sticker from West Texas in 1986 - "Please God just give me one more oil boom, and I promise this time I won't piss it away"?. That means they are now in their 50's and getting ready to retire, and with them goes a quarter century worth of experience and knowledge. According to a study in late 2006 by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., about 56 percent of workers in the oil and gas industry are between 35 and 54 years old. With 55 as the average industry retirement age (although with the 2008 crash in the values of 401 retirement accounts, the joke is that "90 is the new 50"), more than half the oil and natural gas employee base will leave over the next decade. This will be only slightly offset by the fact that a lot of technical professionals will be retained as consultants after they retire.

But here is a more personal and visual way to understand what the industry will be losing - yesterday at 5:05 PM I walked around my company's office at Dairy Ashford in Houston, sent one text message, and by 5:15 I had over 100 years oil and gas experience gathered around the bar at Big John's Ice House, without even breaking a sweat. It is going to be very hard for the Engineering grad student that we recruited last year to do that...