The Big Crew Change: Turnover in the Oil Workforce

The mainstay of the oil- and gas industry workforce will retire in the coming ten years. While there is a fair amount of thinking about how to fix this huge problem in the oil- and gas industry, this factor is being ignored in the energy scenarios of the International Energy Agency and Energy Information Administration. This posts looks at the numbers and potential effect on oil production of the retirement in the oil-industry.

The retirement of the workforce in the industry is normally referred to as “the big crew change”. People in this sector normally retire at the age of 55. Since the average age of an employee working at a major oil company or service company is 46 to 49 years old, there will be a huge change in personnel in the coming ten years, hence the “big crew change”. This age distribution is a result of the oil crises in ‘70s and ‘80s as shown in chart 1 & 2 below. The rising oil price led to a significant increase in the inflow of petroleum geology students which waned as prices decreased.

Chart 1 - Petroleum Degrees Granted in the USA and Oil Price from 1972 to 2006

Chart 2 - Age distribution of Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) members from 1997 to 2004. The SPE is an international network of Petroleum Engineers with more then 60,000 members.

The problem has been aggravated due to the loss of in-house training programs in many large oil companies and the loss of research centres in many major oil companies. This was a response to the lower oil prices which caused overall contraction in the industry after the oil crises. The recent fall in oil prices in 1998/1999 which bottomed at 12 dollars per barrel also prompted many companies to reduce or abandon drilling. Leading to the early retirement of thousands of thousands of workers at the end of the 20th century.

There are not enough new students to replenished the senior experts. This takes place in an age were incrementally more people are needed to supply an increasing number of oil to the world economy. The problem is accelerated because drilling is taking place in far more complex environments then before. The “easy oil is gone” as Shell and Chevron now commonly state in their PR campaigns. To learn the necessary competences to oversee project development in the industry one needs around 10 years of training in the various disciplines. According to management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton:

“there are some 1,700 people studying petroleum engineering in 17 US universities compared with over 11,000 in 34 universities in 1993.”
That the issue is not singled out to just North America has been quantified in a study by Schlumberger Business Consulting: “Surviving the skills shortage”. This study published in 2006 has surveyed the worldwide workforce demand and supply in petrotechnical expertise (geologists, geophysicists and reservoir engineers) until 2016. They looked at 115 Universities which covers more than 70% of all relevant universities. The study found that annual deficits resulting from the balance between supply & demand of petrotechnical graduates over the coming decade exist in:

North America – annual shortage of 420;
The Middle-East – annual shortage of 350;
Russia – annual shortage of 160.

The study found that there is a surplus of petrotechnical personnel in:

China - annual excess of 410;
Indonesia - annual excess of 900;
India - annual excess of 100;
Venezuela – annual excess of 500;
Mexico – annual excess of 100.

The figures from Schlumberger are an average over the next ten years.

So on a net basis there is no shortage of workforce in itself, but on a regional basis in North America, the North Sea, The Middle East and Russia there is. Whether there will be sufficient transfer of personnel remains to be seen in the light of cultural barriers.

The bigger problem that comes to light from this study is the capability shortage. The most experienced geologists, geophysicist and petroleum engineers will retire. One study from the Society of Petroleum Engineers estimated that the cumulative experience loss will amount to 231,000 years. Schlumberger summarises this as:

“There are insufficient personnel or ‘mid-carrers’ between 30 and 45 with the experience to make autonomous decisions on critical projects across the key areas of our business: exploration, development and production. This fact slows the potential for a safe increase in production considerably”
The problem was recently addressed at the 15th Middle East Oil and Gas Show in Bahrain. Senior Vice President of Exploration and Production. Abd Allah Al-Saif spoke about the capability shortage in Saudi-Arabia telling the audience that:
"Nearly half of our workforce [Saudi Aramco] is less than 30 years of age. Furthermore, surveys suggest that in the next few years more than 60 per cent of our engineers will have less than 10 years of experience.”
These problems cannot be solved on short notice and will have a serious effect on oil production. Companies look at partial solutions to the problem through drilling automation and knowledge transfer. Recently Schlumberger consulting and businesses wrote a report called: “Changing the way we drill” which talks about remote automated drilling from a distance, “allowing operators to utilize their most qualified experts at any location to monitor drilling operations”. Other consultants write about eLearing which leads to fast knowledge transfer: “consisting of technology to capture knowledge via video (when people give presentations, for example) and then allowing fast and efficient search of this material from the vast repository of captured knowledge.”

Such problems may help but will hardly ameliorate the lack of years of experience. The study from Booz Allen Hamilton describes the issue and the partial solutions as follows:

“Until now, companies have been able to work around the growing talent gap with increasing automation, process efficiencies and by turning to universities and outside service companies for incremental operating and project delivery capacity. But these adjustments alone are increasingly inadequate to make up for the growing shortage of skills and knowledge as activity levels rise and senior employees leave the industry. In many companies the 2007 planning cycle will likely show growing staffing and skills gaps opening up over the next 5 years.”
In essence, fewer oil fields can be developed because of this problem. Projects delays that are already quite common, as shown in chart 3 below, will become more widespread.

Chart 3 - Project delays as outlined in the February medium term oil outlook update of the International Energy Agency

The bad news is that this will lead to an earlier peak and subsequent sharper decline in the short term as less projects are developed. The good news is that more projects are left to develop, leading to a slower decline on the long term.

I don't know what to make of it. I believe that of the oil depletion (hobbyist?) analysts here on TOD, we have people like Khebab who is a DSP engineer, and Stuart who is CompSci whiz. At least I think that's their background (I know mine is EE). So where are the Petroleum Engineers with a deep background and appreciation of oil depletion on this site? Is WestTexas a Petroleum Engineer? I remember when I was deciding on my major and ChemEng and Petroleum Engineering had the highest starting salaries. My school had the #1 ranked ChemE department as I recall, and I knew their curriculum fairly well from hanging around and tutoring with classmates.

In any case, it's kind of like if we were discussing how a microprocessor works and not having any digital logic design engineers around correcting us. You would think that more people that have devoted their careers to a narrow topic such as Petroleum Engineering would flock here. Or perhaps they are sick of doing it day-in, day-out and don't have the energy to educate us newbies.

I know the Petroleum Engineers who understand depletion are out there, like this commenter named ReserveGrowthRulz over at And RockDoc who is a PhD Geologist also at

Or are the people going for Petroleum Engineering degrees only in it for the money? Could they care less about how the dynamics of oil consumption plays out as long as they get a paycheck? I happened to go for an advanced degree and have an interest in challenging research topics. It boggles my mind sometimes how us "amateurs" do a better job of at least exercising our brains than the professionals out there.

I hope I don't offend anyone too much; remember my analogy to other technical areas where you can get creamed by not knowing your academic learnin'

Could they care less about how the dynamics of oil consumption plays out as long as they get a paycheck?

WHT- you hit the nail on the head, at least in my industry. I am a facilities maint mechanic/stationary Eng, and the new kids comming in "don't give a f..."
Thats what they say.

They seem to not care or are not curious as to thier surroundings, what happens when this is done, or simply, explore the mechanized department. Personally I find every day interesting in my world at work, trying to push the machineries limits and still maintain order. I know more than the lab when it comes to oil filtration and water/oil separation than they do! Why?, because I try and understand why and how when something doesn't work. If I don't I look it up on the net and watch where I get my answer from.

This is a very good article on E & P times ahead! SLB knows as they studied the SPE guys, so it will be interesting as time goes on.


Kudos to your commitment. I am fortunate where I work that some of the fresh grads are highly motivated and surprise a lot of us with their enthusiasm.

Thinking about this some more, I also have to think that BigOil companies don't necessarily condone their engineers venturing out and potentially bad-mouthing internal operations. I imagine a lot of the employees just as soom zip their lip and put the nose to the grindstone.

I think that most of the engineering degrees are thought today as specializing courses with a very narrow focus. That's why you have so many different engineering degrees out there, whereas 50 years ago you had just 3 or 4 (mechanics, civil, chemical).

People today are not taught to think outside the box, to look at other science fields parallel to theirs. Like so many times commented here, PO requires some understanding in several different fields from mathematics to sociology, from geology to politics.

On a personal basis I find oil depletion research pushing especially my knowledge on mathematics, and not so on geology or petroleum engineering. BTW my base formation is on Information Systems and Programming.

Hi Luis (no accents on this keyboard),

I think that most of the engineering degrees are thought today as specializing courses with a very narrow focus

American university education has always been broad and time con$uming, of course, but even in the UK now an engineering student would study a broad core curriculum for the first two years (of four for a BSc or BEng, or five for an MEng). This would include...

  • Engineering mathematics (calculus, vector calculus)
  • Strength of materials and structures
  • Machine design
  • Statics, kinematics, dynamics
  • Hydrostatics, some fluid mech
  • Thermodynamics
  • Some nuclear science
  • Economics (mostly discounted cashflow)
  • Probability and stats
  • Workshop and manufacturing practice
  • One foreign language
  • Then they would spend their final two years learning about petroleum engineering, with that lot as a foundation. The same would be true for an aeronautical engineer, say, or a nuclear engineer. Engineering students work just as hard as medical students, and by the time they graduate they know a lot more about a lot more than the average humanities scum.

    "average humanities scum"

    And who would that be?

    I am an just an electronic engineer, but if I'm not a petroleum engineer, does that make me just an average humanite scum?

    Not at all old chap - that was just for humorous effect.

    Well, I'm probably as much a heavy upstream techno-geek as anyone on TOD, and a pretty frequent commenter (not up there with the Gods Of TOD though).

    are the people going for Petroleum Engineering degrees only in it for the money?

    Well, the money ain't bad, but I decided to get into the oil business after reading "Jem" by Frederick Pohl. Peak oil and overpopulation forces a drastic realignment of world power blocs...

  • The Fats produce food
  • The Greasies produce oil
  • And the Peeps produce people
  • I just wanted to live inside a Science Fiction novel, and so far I haven't been disappointed. It's been a long, strange trip, and I think it's just getting to the good bit. Here we go, eh?

    Could they care less about how the dynamics of oil consumption plays out as long as they get a paycheck?

    From the conversations I've had, I would say that oilies are about as likely or unlikely to care about PO as anyone else. Strange, but there it is. Most of the kids on the streets throwing Molotovs when Thatch was dismantling the British coal industry in the 1980s probably weren't pitmen. And of course we all want to get to pension vesting day with our benefits intact. Does that make us evil or stupid?

    interesting comments - age distribution isn't something i'd though would of mattered much.
    would it be possible to estimate the magnitude of this problem, and how it could impact future oil supplies (you did mention the 'now down, up later' aspect, but given that the raw numbers seem to indicate a rough balance, how large do you think the change could be?

    Second, the graph is talking about changes in peak capacity of various projects, not changes in the date of arrival of that peak amount - wouldn't a lack of personal only effect the date at which the field is fully developed, and leave the peak extraction amount roughly untouched?

    In either case the Hubert curve, which everyone likes to analyze oil production with, relys on the aggregate average of many oil fields, and as such the production profile from any individual field shouldn't significantly affect the nature of the curve, or predictions made from it.

    (not in any way related to the oil industry, so please correct me if i'm up the garden path here)

    what about in Geology? Is there still a need? My daughter is majoring in Geology, but she won't finish for 2 more years.
    I am not sure, but I think she has a good future!

    I can't guarantee your daughter an oil job, of course, but the industry isn't going to stop recruiting and training geoscientists (the preferred term nowadays) any time soon. She's probably hit the late-world-plateau time window just about right.

    If she really wants to work in the oil business, it would help to study some or all of sedimentology, geoacoustics (seismic) and basin dynamics. Some of the more specialized stuff (production geology, sequence stratigraphy) can maybe wait till later.

    What I personally look for in an interview candidate is commitment to a career in the industry, some retention of what they learned at university, and the ability to use that knowledge logically to analyze situations and solve problems.

    Hello Rembrandt,

    Thxs for the stats and info in this keypost. What worries me most about this career-skills gap is future FF-worker safety. Do you know if this retirement problem is already occuring in the coal industry?

    US Coal mining deaths soared to a 10-year high in 2006, reversing an 80-year trend of steadily falling fatalities and raising safety concerns as coal production reaches record levels.
    [Mar. 1, '07] Where The Coal Is Stained With Blood

    Being a coal miner in China is one of the world's most dangerous jobs. Officially, about 5,000 of his fellow workers died in mining accidents last year. Unofficially, nobody knows how many were killed. In the space of a single week late last year, gas explosions and accidents in four mines left nearly 100 miners dead. Li Yizhong, head of the State Administration of Work Safety Supervision, described the carnage as "unprecedented" and blamed the deaths on collusion between local officials and greedy mine owners. Indeed, throughout China, the coal magnates of Shanxi are notorious for their extravagance. Chinese newspapers regularly tally the number of Hummers, Ferraris and Rolls-Royces in the otherwise impoverished province.

    I hate to think that being a soldier is a safer career choice than working in the fossil fuel industry.

    Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

    This essay hits very close to home for me. When I left the chemical industry and came to the oil industry, I couldn't help but note that the average age seemed to be quite a bit higher. I have seen lots of age distributions, and we are going to have a tough time ahead as we lose numerous people to retirement.

    This also ties in to something that I was asked about a couple of days ago, and something I am often asked about: How can you support sustainability and work for an oil company? I think my response is topical to the essay here. Here is part of what I wrote:

    The situation right now is that we are very dependent upon fossil fuels. If we just stopped producing them, people would die. There would be no fuel. Your grocery store would run out of food. The cars and planes would stop. We have a society that can't go cold turkey on fossil fuels. As oil production declines, we are going to need a lot of smart people working on this problem as we attempt a difficult transition. I would also add that it isn't like my company is not involved in alternative energy efforts. hint, hint

    I get e-mails every day - someone asking for advice, input, sanity checks, etc. So, I am doing what I can, and making sure my family is provided for at the same time. I believe that in a post-peak world, my current job is very stable and I will have taken care of priority #1 - my family. Personally, I feel like I have struck the right balance. There will always be those who disagree. But next time you wonder why someone would continue to help provide fossil fuels to the world, ask yourself what would happen if we all decided not to.

    Hello R-squared,

    Well said.

    As for me--I am very glad you, WT, HO, PluckyUnderdog, et al, are out there looking for all the FFs you can get your hands on. Be careful guys!

    Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

    Any suggestions for getting in on the industry?

    Do you need a graduate degree, or will an BS in a technical field do?

    Any internship or introduction programs out there?

    I believe that an undgraduate degree in chemical engineering will be a valuable degree for a long time to come. The degree is challenging to earn, but once you have it you can do many different things. In the oil industry, I had think of at least half a dozen broad areas that a chemical engineering degree can get you into. It can also get you into a broad range of different industries. Starting salaries are $55K. Ten years of experience can have you in 6 figures.

    So, if I was young, smart, interested in a challenge, and wanted to make good money, I would go that route. I put myself through school, and as a result of having to work full time it took longer. Looking back I should have taken out student loans and gone to school full time.

    I have an undergrad in mechanical engineering, a masters in remote sensing applied to forestry, and a dozen or so years experience in biol/natural resource management research.

    I have been thinking about how to transition to energy related work (not biofuels, which is talked about a lot as a forestry product but which I think is a horrible idea) but am unsure of where I would fit and whether I would need additional education. Any thoughts?

    Mechanical engineers are always in demand in the oil industry. It's a similar situation to chemical engineering: Lots of equipment that needs mechanical engineers to look after.

    electrical too though most EE's are too smart to work for big oil where they'll never make the A team.

    The comp levels you mention are unfortunately not very exciting. I'm not trying to be difficult, but people with the IQ and drive to get a degree in chemical engineering from a reputable institution can currently make as much or more elsewhere in our economy.

    The investment industry (banks, hedge funds, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.) has sucked a considerable amount of IQ out of the marketplace the last 10+ years: math PhDs, physics PhDs, computer Sci people, and several tenured professors. The IQ simply followed the money. I'm not saying that this has been the best use of this IQ, just that it happened.

    Perhaps the upcoming oil market labor shortage will drive the compensation levels high enough to draw the necessary IQ away from other careers. If oil hits $100-$150 a bbl as Jim Rodgers forecasts, then there should be plenty of cash around to draw in the talent, and to lift the wages of the existing talent in place.

    - Sonic

    The comp levels you mention are unfortunately not very exciting. I'm not trying to be difficult, but people with the IQ and drive to get a degree in chemical engineering from a reputable institution can currently make as much or more elsewhere in our economy.

    That all depends on location. If they want to live in New York or California, where the cost of living is incredibly high,then that's right. But starting salaries for chemical engineers are also much higher in those locations. If they want to live in Montana or Texas or many other places with an oil and gas industry, you aren't going to beat it.

    I could have gone to California and made probably 5 times what I make now. But I don't want to live in California. A lot of people don't. So if you want to live anywhere around the Midwest, Gulf Coast, etc. you are going to have a tough time beating a chemical engineering degree. Of course there are exceptions. But it is a fact that chemical engineering starting salaries are ranked #1 on the salary surveys for BS degrees year after year.

    RR -

    Yes, most of the finance industry is centered in big cities: places like NY, London, SF, HK, etc. I know, I spent time working in some of those places and I didn't like it: I'm not a big city guy. I am more comfortable in a College Station than I am a place like NYC. Thankfully, not all finance industry jobs are in those places.

    What's odd to me is that the overwhelming majority of people in the finance industry actually want to live in those locations. This is partly due to many of the people in the industry being "foreign nationals" (NY, for example, has large numbers of almost every ethnic group on the planet. Perhaps this makes it more comfortable place for foreign nationals). That said, it's hard to even get US citizens to consider finance jobs in places like Chicago or Dallas or Charlotte even though some of the largest banks & hedge funds in the world reside there. (SF, however, is an easy sell: demand for finance jobs in CA outweighs the supply).

    During my days in London, my wife & I got to know several people in the oil industry. What I wonder is how many people are attracted to jobs that relocate them all over the world? One of our London friends (a former Alaska resident) was later transferred to Russia and has been there for several years. Russia is not everyone's ideal location in which to raise children. Our friend is attempting to get back to Alaska, but only time will tell.

    My basic point is that I think comp levels in the oil industry need to go up -- way up -- in order to attract & keep the talent that the world needs in this industry to deal with the coming energy crunch. Thankfully, the demographic issues raised above should combine with Peak Oil/Peak Exports to make demand for oil talent exceed the supply. So, don't be shy about asking for a raise! LOL.

    - Sonic

    Word to the wise: Watch the Chinese.

    If they made a concerted effort, they could flood the market with petrochemical specialists, geologiists and petroleum engineers.
    And their interest in world petroleum is soaring.

    This occrred vis a vie the computer software profession and India.
    Only a few years ago, kids were told "go into software and programming, it's a killer field....big money, bright future." Only a few years later, American business began outsourcing their software work to India, which had trained in raw numbers, a larger number of programmers than the total of the U.S.
    Software work can be sent electronically across the sea in seconds, meaning U.S. software engineers and programmers were competing with Indian programmers as if they were up the street.

    The petroleum industry is not so easily transportable, but it is not far off. Petroleum engineers can use computers, video conferencing, and virtual modeling to do much of the spade work, and combine it with some trips to the field (an airliner can have them anywhere in hours) when they are critacally needed onsite. There will always be a need for some engineers/technicians onsite, but these will be far fewer, and will be in constrant electronic contact with a core of technical support people who can be thousands of miles away and fewer in number, backing up multiple E&P and potential drilling sites.

    In other words, the oil industry will face the same changes that all industries do, and the need for manpower per barrel of oil produced or mm/btu of natural gas produced will drop like a stone. The oil and gas industry at last will come into the 20th century, here in the 21st century.

    Roger Conner Jr
    Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

    Is it possible or likely that lack of experience could lead those younger engineers into production profiles that damage the reservoirs they're working? People here talk about it qualitatively all the time, but I've never heard a quantitative assessment of how probable it is that less-experienced PE's could end up reducing their URR's significantly. Isn't the vulnerability of a field to overproduction damage dependent on its permeability?

    The Society of Petroleum Engineers just published the first edition of a new publication, Talent & Technology, on their website You can download a copy. It contains a stab at the quantitative assessment you are asking about, at least as it pertains to drilling costs. The cost of engineering errors is much more immediate on the rig.

    As a PE who started with a major in 1976, my take on the scarcity of PEs on TOD is supported by the graph at the top of this thread ... we are either working like dogs trying to train the new folks or planning our retirement, or both ... no time for chatting online.

    The optimist's view :

    Within five years, world peak is visible to everyone. Concern about global warming has led to international accords on carbon taxation. The pace of innovation in energy reduction and substitution is dizzying. Demand for oil is starting to slacken, even though the price is still mostly under $100 a barrel (end user prices are generally much higher due to taxation).

    Oil companies raise salaries to encourage their experienced people to stay on a few more years. Oil is recognised as a sunset industry, and HR needs are projected as dwindling over the next decade.

    I work for a major oilfield services company.

    I think most rank-and-file professionals are caught up in the same "sunshine pump" optimism that their managers successfully feed to the public at large. Also, most oil people live in Red America, and see Peak Oil (and Climate Change) as a left-wing politically-motivated attack on them, their industry, their employer, their way of life, etc.

    But there is a significant fraction who don't believe the party line from their management. But they put themselves at some career risk if they become very vocal on the issue, so that silences them.

    Oh, you do need to MS in Geology, Geophysics, or Petroleum Engineering to be competitive in this industry. BS or BA degree isn't optimum. And it should be from an "oily" university... Texas A&M, University of Texas, University of Oklahoma, University of Houston, etc.

    Peter Wang, PG, MS
    Texas Registered Professional Geophysicist

    BS or BA degree isn't optimum. And it should be from an "oily" university... Texas A&M, University of Texas, University of Oklahoma, University of Houston, etc.

    That may be true in the fields you mentioned, but not for chemical engineering. I got my MS in chemical engineering (from A&M) but only because I was already in grad school for a chemistry Ph.D. A BS in chemical engineering is always near the top of the starting salaries for undergrads (usually at #1) so not a lot go on to grad school.

    If there's a shortage of engineers they will just go for more H1Bs. I'd say avoid most engineering degrees like the plague unless you really like the work. Over half the chem engineers in the U.S. no longer work in the field.

    If there are a lot of jobs available in the Petroleum Eng field the problem will self-correct in 5-10 years. If there are no jobs it won't.

    Maybe in the past, but very few H1Bs are being issued or renewed now, I know this first-hand.

    Petroleum Engineer Career Path:

    Step 1: Go to school and get engineering degree.

    Step 2: Start at Haliburton.

    Step 3: Drill more holes, get less oil.

    Step 4: Get transferred from Montana to Scotland.

    Step 5: Get transferred again to Haliburton's new headquarters in Dubai.

    Step 6: Get sent to Iraq to supervise Iraq drilling.

    Now what's wrong with this career path? Retirement isn't the only problem in the oil industry. My cousin started as a petroleum engineer. Two divorces later he now operates a couple of restaurants in Colorado.

    An old friend's son about 10-12 years ago scored 1598 on the SAT. The young man said he was going to become a petroleum engineer. He is now an actor on Broadway. My daughter is a chemistry major. She told me that in her organic chemistry class only her and one other student do not intend to go to medical school. My daughter is considering a phamacist career if she can't get into the tech side of movies. The best and the brightest are looking to health care and show business as careers.

    This same profile applies, generally, to the nuclear power industry and the broader electric business also. Most of my colleagues are a bit older than I and are eager for "the letter" that lets them retire before 65 with extra benefits.

    They'll go too, since our genius HR department decided to demote all the core experts from "principal" to "senior" engineer. A title is a psychic reward that costs the company little but a demotion is a slap in the face for years of faithful service.

    The bright side is that college enrollments are up sharply since the kids seem quite capable of seeing the future.

    Our industry organs are full of discussion on the same issues.

    The near term problem is that ALL nuclear-experienced talent that want to work are working - there's no bench! Human talent is the limiting factor in the expansion of nuclear power in the US today.

    Where to start? As this is my first post here after reading/lurking for a little over a year, I think I should say a small bit about me. I'm an O&G geologist working in the states (primarily Rockies lately). I've worked for both exploration companies and for service companies. At age 38, I'm also one of those people who is in the gap as described in this post by Rembrandt. Of course, I take exception to the whole article being about engineers as I'm not sure they've ever found any oil. ;) Where is the love for geologists and geophysicists?!? Presently, I'm in exploration trying to find O&G domestically.

    Someone mentioned that their daughter was getting her geology degree (O&G, not environmental) and asked if that was a good profession with a future. From where I sit, I say that she has it made. This will be especially true if she gets a Master's degree (someone else mentioned this earlier, too). I can tell you that it has made a big difference for me. A BS gets you a starting job as a tech at a large company with the chance for associate geologist down the road. A BS could get you a job as a geologist starting at a small company. The salary difference between tech and geologist is not trivial. Only having a BS will be limiting for career advancement if that ever becomes important to her.

    There was also some talk about Chinese professionals perhaps flooding the market. I don't completely agree with this idea. I do agree that there are many thousands more Chinese O&G professionals being trained today than American (or any other nationality for that matter). I just don't think that they will survive well outside of their system. My observations of the Chinese system in China are that the individual is not encouraged to be creative or well-rounded. People are so cheap in that country that a large field may have 900+ geologists assigned to it. A single geologist is responsible for knowing everything under the sun about gamma ray response on logs for the wells, as an example. That same person couldn't tell you much, if anything, about reservoir properties or regional geology in the field. And, they certainly are not encouraged to step outside of the box to learn it. The pecking order is hard core and people don't step out of line for fear of losing their state jobs. You can't challenge or make the boss look bad.

    The contrast is that in the US, UK, Canada, and a few other non state-owned countries the geoscientists are expected to handle almost all aspects of a field within their profession. That same example of a field with 900+ Chinese geologists would have perhaps 5-10 American geologists. I'm not prepared to comment on which one is better, but I can say that it forces the independent geologists to be more well-rounded and creative.

    So, take the Chinese geologist/engineer/geophysicist out of the Chinese system and he will be screwed until he fills in all of the major knowledge gaps and learns to be creative. Pick the entire Chinese system up and move it around the World...that may be a different story that could meet with success.

    Finally, I agree with everything that was written in the article about the gap. As an industry, it has been on our minds a LOT. When we start hiring engineers with EE degrees and environmental geologists you know that the situation is bad. I would say that we have been doing that for the last 5 years or so. Companies are fighting for people. It takes ~10 years of work experience to make a good geoscientist, IMO.

    This retiring and dying group that is going through right now won't be fully replaced and that will effect what we can do in the future. I compare it to the space race and going to the moon. we worked our butts off to get their and then literally threw it all away in the 70s when we abandon the program. Well, as we all can see, it isn't like we just turn on a switch and go back to the moon. We have to relearn and redevelop how to do it because the folks who originally did it are retired or dead. The oil industry is in about the same shape as the moon program. If we want to gear up to find and produce a lot more oil and gas, it isn't happening anytime soon (assuming that it is even possible).

    What FaceDown says about Chinese oil geologists reminds me of my experience with Chinese programmers. The several Chinese programmers I've had experience with have been technically very good but all lacked the ability to grasp big picture and more real-world design issues. I would attribute this to intensive technical training and little real-world experience. I suppose it's nothing that experience can't change, but I was surprised by the uniformity of my experience.

    There are not enough new students to replenished the senior experts. ...
    So on a net basis there is no shortage of workforce in itself, but on a regional basis in North America, the North Sea, The Middle East and Russia there is. Whether there will be sufficient transfer of personnel remains to be seen in the light of cultural barriers.

    Doesn’t all this signal a dying business for the importing countries, or a head-in-the-sand attitude, energy will flow and bloom, oops sorry, burn or just light up in brill’ incandescence?

    I know a huge amount of young people but nary a one has ever spoken about energy (Switzerland)...not even in nuclear or hydro-electric areas. Their career choices span the arty to the whacky to the traditional (doctor, lawyer) and in Science, since 15 years, it is all chemistry, bio tech, nano tech, material science, medic this and that, mostly bugs and stupid stuff (high altitude medecine!), even old style engineering is considered uncool.

    Follow da money.

    Nobody studies rocks, dirt, drills, what disgusting dull subjects.

    Anecotes: I have a relative (b. circa 1947) who became a petro-geologist, did very well, but around 2000 decided to quit and economist! (argh)

    so how many left ??

    Another relative (b. 1985) went on a tour of the nuclear installations in Switz. partly with school visits; at each place efforts were made to interest the young (even glossy info packages were handed out) and it was emphasized that good career oppos were available. Takers? Don’t know, guess, none.

    Imagine telling Blondista in the disco that you work for, at, X or Y nukulear installation - she’s probably think you were radioactive which as everyone knows in worse than having AIDS.

    Of course the small numbers required present difficulties.

    No one wants to work in the London sewers either:

    Smith is 57. He’ll retire soon, along with several others in the gang in Clerkenwell. ‘I’m 40,’ Dave says, ‘and I’m the last fully trained Thames flusher. There’s no one behind me.’ Contractors might do the work, the flushers say, but they don’t have the knowledge.



    Interesting comments.

    'Follow da money'

    This statement is very true and has been so for two decades. The money has been in service and ancilliary professions. I include health workers in these as well as lawyers, marketing professionals, etc. This annoys health workers immensly since they assume everyone will pay to retain health workers. So many people now work in the discretionary side of the economy. Before people shout that health workers are not discretionary, they are: When a nation is impoverished, the choice is pay or die. Go look in any 19th Century grave yard... Most people died.

    The massive healthcare budgets in Western Europe need the support of a significant tax burden which in turn needs workers generating tax. A world past peak oil will demolish all of these shibboleths. Government jobs will suffer as well. Will we need social workers, town planners, health inspectors, five-a-day-vegetable coordinators, smoking ban enforcers, traffic wardens etc? I am with Kunstler on this:
    Gov will be lucky if it can man the phones let alone maintain order.

    All employment in the discretionary side of the economy is at great risk in a peak oil induced depression.

    Todays kids are being trained for a world that just wont exist. The only thing I can suggest is. Make sure your job requires you to be present and that it is a job that does not depend on a spending choice of somebody else.

    As for the gentleman above who's daughter is to graduate in Geology. I say this:

    For the last two decades, Petroleum Geology has been in the doldrums. This is bourne out by the annual graduate levels in the USA, from a peak of 11000 pa to a current level of 1700 pa (In a nation of 300 million...). When I graduated in Geology, the UK generated something like 1200 BSc Graduates pa Britain was in the 1970-1980 recession, but I got work in UK Oil straight away. I was lucky. My old man was in power generation. Funny that: Whatever the rest of the world is doing, being close to energy worked out well for us both...

    She has a reasonable chance of obtaining gainful employment with an Oil Co or Oil Service Co. A masters would be really useful and probably give her a nice edge.

    This is the last hurrah. She has arrived at more or less the right time. Will she retire as a Geologist? I doubt it. But then I doubt that the western concept of retirement will last longer than another decade or so anyway. Mostly because of earlier mortality but also because the concept of 'entitlement' will be demolished. (You dont work? - then you dont eat...)

    BTW: I have one kid doing an MChem and another thinking about Energy Engineering. So I know what you are going through If you read sites like these.

    No: 3 decades from now a job as an armed security guard on a ration truck would be a good career move.

    Thank you for the kind words. She is well aware of this site, if she visits, I don't know. She won't tell me, (yet), but she is well aware of the energy problem, and she wants to make a difference, she is aware that a "masters" is crucial to a future in geology. Hoping a future employer will pick up a portion of the tab for that. we shall cross that bridge when we get there. not a problem, i can pay for it, as i receive oil/gas royalties to pay for it. funny thing eh? what an irony!
    oil/gas is paying for my daughter to find more oil/gas!

    Manpower and infrastructure limitations can be resolved over time. This kind of problems ought to move the "peak" closer in time and leave spare resources for a slower decline in the post peak era.

    I would be more worried about capacity limitations within nuclear industry, electrified rail, truly innovative marketing of realy new lifestyles and other industries that can replace some of the oil need.

    How about the grunts-- the drillers, rig hands etc. ?
    Same situation?

    I think too much is being made of the bulge in the age distribution. Keep in mind that bulge was caused by massive over production of ChE's and PE's in the late 70's early 80's panic over oil price. My school went from about 80/yr to 200 then back to 80 over a decade. If salaries go nuts, watch enrollment shoot up again. We ChE's had as many job offers as interviews in the early 80's. Bidding wars on salaries as well. Then 1984 came and they showed large numbers of us the door in the oil biz anyway.

    Also, just because "People in this sector normally retire at the age of 55. " doesn't mean they'll all really retire. half of my old managers are now consulting because their wives can't stand them in the house. Free travel, day rates on top of pensions etc etc. It's not like technical jobs are all that demanding physically. The peak can be spread out and the old timers used to train the influx (just like 1978--1984).

    Running out of cheap oil is a real problem. There's no shortage of people smart enough to be PEs or ChEs.

    Heck with a little motivation, I might pick up a calculator again. Does anyone still use Fortran (LOL).

    Couldn't speak to the drilling end, but on the processing end all work is done now on very large, very expensive simulation programs such as HYSYS or WinSIM.

    those simulators have been around for yonks. I believe Monsanto wrote the first one in the late 70's (FLOWTRAN or flowsheet translator). I'm sure the newer ones are better. The problem with all of them was you had to know a bit about what you were doing. GIGO.


    We have a similar adaptation - lots of retirees coming back to work on our nuclear project.

    The downside is one dropped dead one weekend and another had to be rolled out of the office on a stretcher.

    As Uncle Scrouge might have put it - Unreliable when they're young since they come in hungover or get pregnant - unreliable when they're old since they drop dead without warning us!

    As to Fortran - YES! although Mathcad and Excel handle the smaller jobs.

    I had 2/3 colleagues check out in their 30's from heart attacks. In early years it was resigning to get an MBA that thinned the ranks most. The top third of the ranking pool mostly moved on before 5 years in. The middle third stuck it out and the bottom third got the boot. My peers are beginning to be at the top levels. It's kinda weird to see your old office mates as the top guys/women.

    I just don't see a need for a big panic on staffing. When wages for consultants get high enough, people will re-appear.

    Great re Fortran. Now if I could only remember anything about it, I'd be set! I think I'd rather go back to two phone and four Telerate screens to be honest.