OE Spotlight: PESGB reaches 50

June 16, 2014

As the PESGB reaches 50, 2014 President Oonagh Werngren takes stock of the North Sea oil & gas industry.

At the start of 2014, I was fortunate enough to take up the reins as president of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB). I am only the second woman to take this role as the society celebrates its 50th year, but I am also humbled by the great contribution made by my predecessors in the role and the members of the society to advance the understanding of the basins which make up the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).

What started with the signing of the Continental Shelf Act 1964 by the British Parliament on 15 May 1964, has trans- formed the North Sea into a very significant hydrocarbon province. Today, more than 450,000 people work in the UK on over 300 fields, and thousands more have been trained both on- and offshore in the basin, transferring their skills and technology overseas. However, 50 years into its development, the UKCS faces a number of challenges as global competition for funds, lackluster drilling results, rising costs, and falling production call for a material change.

Sir Ian Wood’s recently published Wood Review (OE: April 2014) highlights the current exploration crisis and challenges that the industry faces. It is the wakeup call that policy makers and the industry need. It lays out clearly the challenges facing the basin and the way forward. It identifies the need for stimulation of exploration and a turn- around in production, as well as a more collaborative way of working in order to unlock the 42 billion bbl of hydrocarbons that remain.

It also calls for a new regulator and closer input from the UK Treasury on fiscal issues. This is the real tripartite approach we need to work together to unlock the maximum economic potential of the North Sea.

The 6000-strong PESGB membership mirrors this trend, with geoscientists and engineers learning their trades in great academic institutions and transferring their knowledge and skills to the corners of the globe. As home to the main geoscience talent in the UK, it also needs to pick up the challenge, especially around stimulating exploration.

The easy plays have already been found—we need to branch out, to identify missed pay and new play opportunities, to take on frontier basins like the Rockall Trough, to see beneath the basalt and utilize the latest innovation and technology to help us. The future is challenging, yes, but it’s an opportunity to put that 50 years of learning, research, and knowledge to good use.

But is this enough? The much-heralded crew change is taking place and a new generation is coming through the system. The question is —are we doing enough to support them and to ensure we are select- ing the visionaries amongst them?

The recent trends in the UK to take geology out of the school curriculum, reduce the number of universities training geology teachers, and the high costs of acquiring a degree and a masters mean that the selection process is potentially against us. Couple that with recent hiring trends of letting some computerized system determine whether candidates are suitable for a graduate program without even interviewing them leaves me cold.

The good news is that PESGB takes its role of education very seriously by sponsoring 28 MSc students. This activity is coupled with the new UK Research Council-sponsored Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) oil and gas program, led by Heriot Watt University. The CDT will bring over 90 new Phd positions into universities in the UK over the next three years. This is a phenomenal boost. This is the future generation that will unlock the remaining reserves and create the much needed renaissance for the UK.

My plea to the industry is to nurture them and give them a career that will let them unlock their full potential.

Oonagh Werngren MBE joined industry body Oil and Gas UK as operations director in January 2013, and works primarily on the PILOT initiative to maximize economic recovery of the UKCS. Werngren is also President of the PESGB. She has worked at Tricentrol Oil Corporation, ARCO British, BP Exploration, and GDF Suez, on projects around the globe. She started as a field geologist, with an MSc in Stratigraphy from Birkbeck College, mapping landslides before progressing to wellsite geologist, leading exploration and development teams and optimization projects.