New petroleum engineering leader says safety is group’s focus

By Tanya Rutledge

As Egbert Imomoh prepares to take on his post as 2013 president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the industry continues to come under scrutiny on issues ranging from increased risks and safety to a push to perform more research and gather more data about emerging technologies.

All this takes place against the backdrop of a growing uncertainty about attracting and training new petroleum engineers as the aging workforce nears retirement.

Imomoh, nonexecutive chairman and co-founder of Afren, a Nigeria-based independent oil and gas company with assets in Africa and Kurdistan, talked to the Chronicle recently about what lies ahead – and how he plans to face the challenges that have been set out before him.

Edited excerpts follow.

Q: How is the industry addressing concerns about increased risks being taken in challenging environments, like ultra-deepwater Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic?

A: Safety has always been important to SPE and to the industry, and we will continue to focus on that. We want our members, and all workers in the industry, to go to work and come back in one piece. We organize and attend lots of conferences on this subject because it is the foundation of our industry. The regulations and rules are changing every day all over world. Our intention is to bring it to the attention of our members through conferences and communication.

Q: There has been a push for more data and research on hydraulic fracturing. How has the industry responded?

A: There is no doubt that there are some misconceptions out there related to hydraulic fracturing. And that’s because there isn’t a huge understanding about it. That is partly because the industry hasn’t spent enough time explaining what is happening. It’s important to understand that it is not a new technology, but we are using it for new applications, such as to access shale gas. It allows for improved performance. We will continue to collect and disseminate information to people whose lives we touch so they have a better understanding. We can’t assume that people should understand what we are doing. It is up to us to continue to explain what we are doing.

Q: The University of Houston recently added a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering, based on the concern that there aren’t enough young employees to replace retiring workers. What else is being done to address that issue?

A: It’s been a concern, but there are a number of things being done. There are lots of scholarships being donated. There are various regional student contests. We have young professionals that are going out and showcasing what the industry is doing and showing themselves as people that are already in the industry. There is also a lot of mentoring going on, and that’s very important. We have people who have distinguished themselves in the industry going around the world lecturing and training and transmitting knowledge. Not only do we have to attract people to the industry, but once they come in, there has to be training and exposure and a transfer of knowledge.

Q: What do you think your biggest challenge will be as leader of the Society of Petroleum Engineers in 2013?

A: The world continues to need more energy, and oil and gas continues to play an important role in that. Where and how we find that oil and gas is becoming more complex. We need to apply innovative methods and technologies to access those sources of energy. And then we need to ensure that when new technology comes into the fold, it is made available as quickly as possible. In the past, it has taken too long for new technology to be deployed, so we need to collapse the time it takes. We need to do whatever we can at SPE to advance technology and training – faster but safely as well. Safety and environment are top priorities in all of this.