Schlumberger warns of looming shortage of petroleum engineers

By Wael Mahdi
Bloomberg News

Oil companies face a dwindling pool of engineers and other technical staff needed for exploration and production, the head of the world’s largest oilfield services company said.

The number of young recruits hired to replace aging petroleum engineers has declined over the last 10 years, as many college graduates choose managerial positions over engineering jobs and other field assignments, said Andrew Gould, chairman and chief executive officer of Schlumberger Ltd.

“The talent gap is still a factor that limits the expansion of the oil and gas exploration industry,” he told a conference in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 18.

Many young people believe exploration for oil and natural gas is a dying business, Gould said. In fact, engineers with advanced technological skills are in great demand at companies that need to drill deeper and in increasingly challenging conditions now that the era of “easy oil” is over, he said.

Since 2004, Schlumberger has paid its newly hired engineers more than new employees holding management degrees, Gould said.

A shortage of university professors in the necessary subjects exacerbates the problem, said Nigel Middleton, senior vice president for strategic enterprise at Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.

“It was difficult to recruit faculty for Colorado School of Mines in the last few years, as their pay in the industry is higher than that in academia,” Middleton told the conference.

Schlumberger and other large energy companies are trying to improve their collaboration with academia to ensure an adequate crop of field engineers in coming years.

Larger numbers of petroleum engineers are graduating from schools in China, India, and Indonesia. “They are as good as the ones graduating from the West,” Gould said.

Photo: Anadarko