Imagine beginning your studies in a field where everyone gets multiple job offers and then suddenly the market changes and you hear that the industry is dead- maybe forever.
What do you do? Do you switch to a different department? Or do you continue studying in that field and hope for the best?
This is the reality facing the third year students in my department (and for me, a third year PhD candidate). When we began studying petroleum engineering in August 2013, Brent crude oil was over $110 per barrel. Since then, we have seen the value drop to around $30 per barrel, a decrease of about 73%. In the past year and a half, the press has been relentless in publishing doomsday stories about the end of the petroleum industry. This is, of course, very scary when you are studying petroleum engineering and are planning to make a career within what is being deemed a “dying field”.
Therefore, three of the third year students in our department (Trine Remmen, Halvor Lunde Tobro and Mathias Lia Carlsen) took the initiative to organize an event to inspire the next generation of petroleum engineers.
“This summer, we had classmates switching to other engineering disciplines because they were scared they would not get a job when they graduated from our department,” said Mathias. “We tried to tell them that the industry is cyclic and prices should be higher when we graduate.”
Mathias is right – the industry is cyclic. The two most recent price crashes in 1985 and 2008 were followed by an eventual increase in price. Even if the oil price doesn’t reach the level we had when we started our studies (and it most likely won’t reach those astronomical prices anytime soon), the opportunities for innovation during this downturn will make for an exciting start to our careers.
The petroleum industry is traditionally conservative. New technology is typically slow to market because there isn’t a strong need to take big risks when the profit margin is so high. But when the oil price stays as low as it has for so many months, the industry becomes more open to new ideas.
This is why Trine, Mathias and Halvor integrated an “innovation competition” into the event. Throughout the past few weeks, students visiting the Petroleumskvelden booth have had the opportunity to try on virtual reality glasses. Their challenge has been to submit creative ways to use new technology to overcome challenges in the offshore petroleum industry. The winner from the competition will be announced during the event and be awarded a prize.
There is no doubt that the demand for crude oil will continue to increase as the world becomes more developed. The industry’s future may look different than when we started in 2013, but now is the time when we can come with fresh ideas to revolutionize the petroleum industry. The students attending the event tomorrow night can play a crucial role in shaping the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them has already thought of the next groundbreaking innovation.
This blog entry was written by PhD Candidate Katie Aurand, NTNU
– The Department of Petroleum Engineering & Applied Geophysics