Getting Back in the Game

Getting Back in the Game

As the popularity of Rigzone's series of articles about "The Great Crew Change" attests, ensuring that younger segments of the oil and gas workforce obtain the proper training and experience is a hot topic in the industry. Important as that aim may be, however, might the industry be overlooking an untapped resource as it seeks to attract a sufficient number of qualified technical professionals?

Consider the case of "Mac" (not his real name).

Mac, a geoscientist, first entered the oil and gas industry in the late-1970s boom period after starting his career in the mining sector with stints in Australia, Europe and North America. His entrée into oil and gas was unconventional because he did not join the industry as a mudlogger. Rather, the mining company he worked for was engaged in a joint venture with an oil company that was operating in the U.S. Rocky Mountain region.

A geophysicist with the oil company offered Mac, who has a physics minor, an opportunity to develop raw data processing, mapping and modeling systems.

"We were an unconventional group there that tended to use potential fields geophysics methods to focus our seismic budget," Mac recalled.

Eventually, Mac became director of research and development for a highly successful potential fields geophysical consultancy.

Mac said the artificial intelligence interpretation technologies that he and his colleagues deployed provided 90-percent confidence-level basement structure maps for the Williston, Uinta, Denver-Julesburg, Powder River and other basins and wildcat plays. He explained the tools calibrated against everything geological/geophysical that had been published to date on the areas, often identifying structural and stratigraphic opportunities unnoticed by others.

"These potential field, geological/geophysical integrated basement/stratigraphic interpretations could quite neatly narrow down where to spend your seismic and drilling budgets," said Mac.

"It really was a dream job," Mac noted.

Then came the rude awakening of the 1980s oil bust.

Mac, like thousands of others in the oil and gas industry during that period, saw his job disappear.

"I got ushered out of Denver in 1986," he remarked wryly, adding that he held no illusions about the cyclical nature of the industry. "The price of oil had dipped below $10 per barrel and was hovering in the teens in the 1985-86 timeframe."

Suddenly unemployed, legions of engineers, geoscientists and others considered their options. Some went into fields such as banking, education and law enforcement. One out-of-work geologist in Colorado started up a brewpub in Denver that became a success and contributed to the Mile High City's downtown revitalization. That entrepreneur later became the mayor of Denver and is now Colorado's governor.

Others managed to find similar work in other industries. For Mac, that meant becoming an environmental geologist.

"[I] have done quite well at it," he said.

Mac joined a major engineering consulting firm in Australia and became the manager of its environmental technology division. In the early 1990s, he became an independent environmental auditor with the authority to sign off on any site remediation in one of Australia's most populous states.

Several years later, Mac returned to the U.S. to manage two California offices for small and midsize environmental firms. He then became his own boss, designing, building, operating and closing site remediation systems throughout the Western U.S. He eventually returned to the corporate world. Presently, he is a senior-level environmental hydrogeologist specializing in fractured-rock aquifers and litigation support with a firm in Southern California. He adds that he even does mudlogging on environmental projects.

Mac, who readily admits that he obtains much personal satisfaction in environmental consulting, confesses that he would welcome the chance to spend the remainder of his career in oil and gas.

"I don't need a job, I have a nice one, I love what I do," Mac said. "But the truth of the matter is I have always been an explorer ... I really am addicted to exploring."

Ideally, he sees himself returning to his beloved Rockies and spending a decade or two with a "savvy exploration outfit" that would challenge him to find novel ways to apply the breadth of his experience. He also maintains that much of the work he has done in the environmental realm over the past 22 years -- such as shepherding front-end hydraulic fracturing operations, drilling horizontal wells and dealing with flowback water issues -- would readily apply to today's petroleum geology realities.

In fact, Mac sees his environmental expertise as a major selling point. After all, the level of scrutiny the oil and gas industry receives nowadays from the government, news media, activists and others is perhaps unprecedented.

"[Environmental considerations], frankly, should be everyone's first move these days," Mac said. "Would better up-front due diligence have prevented Macondo, Elgin or Frade? It's just risk management, which Macondo informs us, can be a pretty big part of exploration management, and cost."

Mac added that having someone with a track record of working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators enhances "the credibility factor" for an oil and gas company.

"Everyone in the extractives industries today will do much better financially if they practice avoidance instead of restoration," Mac said. "So I bring that to the table in a variety of ways."

Mac is convinced that he would be an asset to an E&P company, but so far he has failed to get his proverbial foot in the door with human resources recruiters and hiring managers. He said it has not been from a lack of effort, having submitted his resume seemingly countless times to what he calls "a web-based parser/shredder." He said the process of responding to job ads, and more importantly getting noticed, has been "frustrating and time-consuming."

He suspects that his situation is not unique. In his opinion, veteran professionals who want to return to the oil and gas industry are not landing interviews and jobs because the frontline recruiters are instructed to hone in on candidates with 7 to 15 years of experience while screening resumes. Such criteria would limit options for Baby Boomers such as Mac, who were forced out of the industry a quarter-century ago and managed to thrive elsewhere but nevertheless want back in.

"Imagine attracting someone who since being ushered out after the last bust has just been getting better and better at being a natural insurance policy against Macondos, knows the Cordilleran Orogen like few geologists have ever been given the chance to, and is actually interested in doing it once again," concluded Mac. "I don't know but it seems to me that I have a lot to offer."

Matthew V. Veazey has written about the oil and gas industry since 2000. Email Matthew at


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Generated by readers, the comments included herein do not reflect the views and opinions of Rigzone. All comments are subject to editorial review. Off-topic, inappropriate or insulting comments will be removed.
Brian M | May. 7, 2012
Recounting my history would be the same as everyone here. Ive done something in the oilfield for most of 29 years, most recently working as a lowly air jammer in PA. The Chevron Drill Site Manager was so talented on one job he had hands filling 600 feet of 24 inch casing with a garden hose to stop it from floating when I came on tour. As gracefully as I could to avoid offending his 7 years of superior oil field experience, I suggested we might use a 4" yellow dog to fill the casing so we could move on to cementing. Working on a small double, one DSM told me he was excited to finally be working on a big rig. The sheer incompetence was astounding, taking 34 days to drill, case and cement to the KOP what we were doing for other companies in 8-10 days. I decided to respond to a Rigzone listing for Chevron seeing the level of expertise they had in place and got the response that I wasnt qualified to be a DSM. A dozen years as a Company Man, another couple decades in production and drilling in 20 basins has no value to most of the oilfield these days. Like all of you guys, I love the patch but I cant get past the keyword scanning software HR departments love to get an interview and discuss why I can save them time and make them money with the highest level of safety and environmental compliance. Thinking I was doomed to fade away in the patch, I got an incredible offer to consult on core drilling for a mining company, my worthless oilfield experience slashed their drilling costs by 50% and dropped their NPT to less than 1% from a high of 39%, zero injuries and 100% regulatory and environmental compliance. Its great work, but I still keep looking back at the patch because I know I have a lot to offer. More than anything its probably wanting to be a part of that long chain of old roughnecks who taught me what they learned on wooden derricks and in impossible situations, living my life as part of the legacy that was the oilfield.

W M Guice | May. 7, 2012
I, too, am a 40 yr. veteran of the exploration & production game with a successful track record and have been trying to get back into the industry. Based upon the descriptions posted, I am well qualified for the positions I apply for. However, two things have become evident to me over the past few years. First, its not about what you've done and what you know anymore - its about what computer programs can you run. Industry doesn't want knowledge & expertise - all they want are computer jocks (which creates its own set of problems since most of the newer generation of geoscientists have little knowledge of the earth and how it to develop exploration & development plays & concepts). Secondly, there is a great deal of age discrimination in todays industry. If I was 20 years younger, I would have had better prospects in the job markets. Consequently, all this BS you hear about the industry wanting to hire experience is BS. Modern industry considers senior experience to be 10+ years in the business. I don't know about anyone else, but when I got to the 10 year mark, I was just beginning to understand I much I really didn't know.

Chad Grahame | May. 5, 2012
Thats an interesting story. In my humble opinion the decision to hire somebody like a "Mac" would be a no-brainer. It would appear that their experience / expertise / versatility (due to expertise in related works) would make them a key decision maker at the top end of the scale. Maybe hes just aiming too low, or has too few of the more recently recognised management / safety etc. course certificates, which Resumes are singled out on a generic basis?

KARL HALLER | May. 4, 2012
I found it easy to identify with your "Mac" character...26 years since the crash in1986 and theres nothing I wouldnt give to go back into drilling.But like Mac I would be wasting my time to try. For an industry that once prided itself on a can do attitude and being flexible enough to tackle any challenge, we have become a collection of specialists...with many unwilling to get their hands dirty.

Pennsylvania Boomer | May. 4, 2012
Macs story is probably one of many 100s around the country. I started in the mid-70s as an offshore roustabout, got a petroleum engineering degree, professional license, then OG development executive... Got tired of relocating and migrated into current government environmental regulation - like what I do. Attempts to get "back into the industry" with an operator have mimicked Macs "shredder" experience. Seems much of the industry cant figure out how to utilize the vast knowledge & experience resources lounging in thier own front yards.

Richard Flemming | May. 4, 2012
I started with an oilfield service company in the mid 70s driving a truck. I learned from the bottom and worked up to field engineer, operations supervisor, district manager and then operations manager for North American operations for a company based out of Argentina. The slow down in the early 80s pushed me out and I moved into technology as a Certified Novell Engineer building networks and managing users for 20 years. I have been trying to get back into managing oilfield services, but everyone wants experience within the last few years. I understand the tools to run logs may have changed with technological improvements, but budgeting, hiring and training employees and talking to customers about cased-hole completions has not changed that much. Work ethics and attitude can make a lot of difference in getting the job and doing it right.

Jared Harlow | May. 2, 2012
Loved this article. I'd like to hear more stories about the bust of 80s. I was alive but young and had a father in the industry here in oklahoma who survived it. Pretty fascinating stuff to hear about. Maybe an expose on the Penn Square Failure might not be bad.

Dawn Messina | May. 2, 2012
Great article!

Sam Edwards | May. 2, 2012
Parser/shredder is exactly the term to use in our frustration of no acknowledgement. Your story of Mac is wide spread. I have over 35 years experience as an Aircraft maintenance engineer.I have had to go back and resurect my Marine license to find work.I dont mind that as I love being on the ocean....and the pay is way better. I have a resume and references that a young man would die for. I just finished a C check on a Dash 8 aircraft....did all the tail feather inspection/replace all the bearings /re-rig and balance the whole elevator system in short order .....not just because of my experience.....but also because of my being in great physical condition.I out worked all and not bragging.Why? ...because I love what I do. I have sent resumes everywhere, but no replies.....the dash 8 job was from a friend. The airlines are not generating enough revenue to pay the employees or do the maintenance properly. They just dont want to pay the money that my qualifications would deserve. I would work for $5.00 per hr. if it only cost me $3.00 to live. Every hour I work I would have $2.00 to myself......but I can't go to work for $27.00 per hour if is costing $30.00 to live ...every hour I work I'm $3.00 behind. It was interesting to read that in 1980 the price of a barrel of oil was $10.00. In 1980 my wages were $22,000.00 per year.I retired two years ago from a connector airline, and my wages had tripled to $66,000.00. So, my income had gone up three times ...the price of a barrel of oil has gone up 10 times. Aircraft fuel costs are eating up most of the profits and greedy managers, well they are rewarded with the rest ....if they can satisfy the stock they use the WEB-BASED PARSER to shred any resume that would eat into their bonus.

Ernie Arrenegado | May. 1, 2012
Oil Patch does not work this way, younger people in the Towers think other wise. Old is out and new is in. Its OK we all learn by our mistakes.

Mac | May. 1, 2012
Glen C. - In light of the companion article, your experience is both enlightening and, dare I say, somewhat disturbing. I will cross-post this next bit to the companion article. I drilled my first horizontal well for environmental 23 years ago beneath a mall that had a dry cleaning op. in the middle that had leaked PCE into highly discontinuous clays, silts and minor sand channels. The San Francisco Bay Muds. A very tight formation in environmental parlance. Crudely we steered both wells up and down at the target depth to encounter as many sands as possible. I wasnt extracting I was injecting ozone, depending upon it to pancake under the fines and finding the secondary porosity. Each layer had once been the surface of this Holocene fluctuating bay margin, and therefore peppered with burrowing organisms and saltbush roots. I think the O&G industry would be quite surprised at the use of hi-tech in such large scale environmental cleanups. Like using reversible push-pull well placement designs for both soil and groundwater impacts, placed 1.7 times the radius of influence, to "Maytag" out or destroy toxic cocktails. Is anyone doing push-pull designs with fracking? Ever since those first horizontal twin-spar wells, every time I tried something revolutionary solving environmental conundrums, I always considered both petroleum methods to do it, and what each of these epiphanies could do for field development. Its the same thing!

Glen C | May. 1, 2012
I, too, was forced out around 86. I've spent thousands of dollars for certifications & still can't get an interview. I'm afraid when I do, it won't last long because I tend to speak whats on my mind. But there is a generation of us out there who have forgotten more about drilling that many in the industry have ever possessed.

Farooq Khan, AAPG, AIPG | May. 1, 2012
Oh wow! That's the way to move ahead, excellent inspiration to follow always improving. Never satisfied. & there's never been a better time for good ideas!


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