I joined the oil and gas industry more than two decades ago, in a year of low oil prices. Securing a job with an energy consultancy felt like a great prize, especially considering that the majority of my fellow geology graduates had chosen to take a different path; largely unrelated to their degrees.
And while my role now is less about looking down a microscope at the detail and more about seeing the bigger picture in terms of company strategy, I remain unashamedly proud to be a geologist working in exploration and production (E&P).
A lot has changed over the years; not least the very different trend we are seeing for today’s geoscience graduates. There are strong signs to suggest that we are losing our homegrown talent, and at a time when we need their creativity most.
I am part of the Industry Advisory Group for the University of Aberdeen’s Integrated Petroleum Geology Masters. According to its programme leader, Adrian Hartley, every single one of the higher educational institutions in the UK offering Petroleum Geology at that level has seen a sharp decline in UK applicants. It’s the same for undergraduate courses too, with a UK-wide decline of between 50-70% in applications.
Our future energy industry talent is choosing not to enter our workplace, which means we have some work to do if we want to maintain the bedrock of how we explore for and produce hydrocarbons and, ultimately, in how our use of the subsurface changes as we progress on our journey towards net zero.
Last week, I attended the Energy Institute’s IP Week, where I saw a consistent ‘call to arms’ from speakers ranging from academic experts, to investors and E&P majors. The message was the same – to define our role in a low carbon future, the energy industry must own the transition to net zero and actively lead the journey.
That’s why the declining uptake of geology I mentioned previously is something we should not ignore. The skills that geologists have are not limited solely to oil and gas, and will remain incredibly important as we continue on this journey. After all, if you want to understand climate change, speak to a geologist. It’s the study of environmental transformation.
Thinking of the potential alternatives for the future of energy supply too, there is an absolute need for this expertise; to help us think about how we use our reservoirs for the development of hydrogen and carbon capture; for the geomechanics behind siting offshore wind turbines; for geothermal energy; and for dealing with nuclear waste, among other things.
The question is, why are we seeing this drop-off in applications, and is it the start of something bigger?
A big consideration for me is that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. We need to showcase the diversity in this industry and provide interesting, knowledgeable, ethical and responsible role models; sharing their own, honest stories about why they work in oil and gas.
While we are starting to see this from some of our industry leaders, it’s not just the job of those at the top. We all have a responsibility to change the conversation – both in public at events like IP Week and in our day-to-day conversations, to give our current and future workforce the social licence to work in this industry.
Because why wouldn’t our talent want to join the energy industry to work on one of the greatest challenges of our time – the journey to net zero? We need to own the problem and engineer solutions together. And when I think about the UK’s declining appetite for this area of science, I think to myself ‘it’s going to be a lot harder without them’.