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Heating up the Job Market

Whether or not conventional oil has a "peak," the world’s heavy oil reserves have only just been tapped. In fact, some experts estimate that heavy oil represents more than half of the globe’s known reserves -- and those are just the known resources. Many heavy oil deposits remain unexplored.

As the industry turns more and more to heavy oil, the job market inevitably reflects that trend. Professionals who focus on the high-viscosity oil are becoming more in-demand, and companies are encouraging a rebirth in the segment.

In addition to the challenges that heavy oil presents, simply because of what it is -- the challenges of bringing it to the surface, transporting it and refining it -- one of the main dilemmas that a heavy oil-focused industry faces is a strained job market. Companies across the globe are finding filling heavy oil positions difficult because they haven’t been training in and encouraging that area of expertise.

Encouraging Growth from Within
Along with the emergence of heavy oil, demand growth has nearly exhausted the industry’s work force, causing an even bigger conundrum: Where will tomorrow’s heavy oil professionals come from?

"Every technical professional is working today," commented Kevin L. Farnsworth, Strategic Business Manager of international oil and gas recruitment and placement company Clover Global Solutions. "The Graying Workforce Phenomenon is pressuring projects in every major upstream area. Heavy oil veterans are even rarer."

As companies turn to heavy oil to help solve the world’s demand for energy, so too must the industry’s professionals. Those looking ahead will be on-track to focus on cost-effective ways to bring this frontier hydrocarbon to the surface.

Additionally, the industry must recognize that it is essential that its veterans pass along their knowledge to the next generation of heavy oil experts. Working as a team, technologies will be able to improve, progressing heavy oil to conventional status, rather than that of frontier.

"Heavy oil will be hit very hard by the Graying Workforce Phenomenon," stated Farnsworth. "The timetable is critical over the next 10 years to transition knowledge to young pioneers who will develop the technology necessary to make heavy oil a cost-effective upstream money-maker."

A Rapidly Expanding Playing Field
Historically, individuals specializing in the production and refining of heavy oil often had to contend with working in remote, climatically unsavory locales. Because a growing list of countries can now boast commercially viable heavy oil resources, members of this highly sought-after workforce can be more selective in determining the distance of their commute. Canada, the U.S., Russia, China, Venezuela, Albania, Brazil, Madagascar are part of a growing list of countries that can boast commercial heavy oil resources. Job opportunities for heavy oil specialists span the globe.

"Most tar sands and heavy oil veterans are working today," Farnsworth added. "These individuals can find work in areas more suitable to their likings. For example, no longer must you only travel abroad to remote freezing places to find quality paying work. Now, this work can be found closer to home with better amenities."

Currently, there are plenty of jobs in the segment. Farnsworth revealed that companies are searching for those with detailed working knowledge of lift systems, as well as primary, secondary and tertiary recovery techniques.

"Job orders have increased in Canada and Russia substantially since October 2007," Farnsworth revealed.

Industry Professionals of the Future
Areas with more advanced heavy oil production are defining how the market will grow. Gerald Bruce, technical committee director with Calgary-based Canadian Heavy Oil Association said that heavy oil labor shortages are being addressed through developing more resources, such as training and apprentice programs, recruiting globally, and tapping temporary foreign workers.

If any industry professionals are waiting for companies to make a financial commitment to the future of heavy oil, it’s already been made. According to the Institute for Energy Research and the Center for Energy Economics, U.S. oil and gas companies spent $86 billion on frontier hydrocarbons, including heavy oil, between 2000 and 2005.