Welding to West of Shetland

Elaine Maslin

April 1, 2016

The North Sea is facing some tough challenges. Elaine Maslin spoke with Brenda Wyllie, who aims to confront those challenges as part of the industry’s new regulator, as well as chairman of the DEVEX conference.

Brenda Wyllie

Poacher turned gamekeeper is always an interesting step to take and it is one Brenda Wyllie never foresaw taking. However, she’s not one to worry about breaking molds. Wyllie started out as an apprentice welder, graduated with an MSc in petroleum engineering, and went on to work for service companies and both large and smaller operators.

Now, after a stint at trade body Oil & Gas UK, she’s Northern North Sea and West of Shetland Area Manager at the newly formed UK North Sea regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), and also heading up this year’s DEVEX conference, headlined as “Delivering positive change to maximize value.”

Recognizing that it’s not an easy time to be in the North Sea, the organizers – the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain and Aberdeen Formation Evaluation Society –have made the Aberdeen conference free, to help those perhaps not in work remain networked and up to speed.

Indeed, the basin, much of which is not profitable at US$30/bbl, faces some hard work in coming months and years and most of it will be about focusing on getting more out of what is already there. “In a $30/bbl world, we cannot get a shiny new asset, we have to look at what we have got and maximize production, drive costs down,” Wyllie says. “It’s looking at what we have currently available and how you can really squeeze it. We need to chase every barrel, every day.”

Wyllie’s career started in 1987, when, just out of school, she joined Halliburton in her home town Arbroath, Scotland, as an apprentice welder. She’d seen the service provider’s equipment proudly paraded through the town before its onward journey, often overseas, and was inspired.

“People like me didn’t go to university, it wasn’t an option,” Wyllie says, who was the only female at the site. “I remember that first day thinking ‘I’ve made it.’ I would have a skill and a job forever.” But, “back then, the oil price was $20/bbl,” she recalls. “It was a collapsing industry.”

Thanks to coaching from a boss at the time, Jack Stockdale, at the end of the five-year apprenticeship, Wyllie went to university, studying at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and then at the University of Stavanger on an exchange program, gaining an MSc as a petroleum engineer.

Her mission was to work for Schlumberger as a wireline engineer, which she achieved, working in Shetland servicing the Brents, Ninian, Cormorant and other fields before leaving to have three children. When she returned in 2006, it was to work for operators, including Hess, from 2006-2009, in Malaysia, then BP, in the North Sea, working on the Schiehallion and Loyal fields, and finally Canadian Natural Resources as UK production manager, up to March 2014.

Moving to work for operators, and different scale operators, set Wyllie up well for her latest roles, at Oil & Gas UK, then the OGA, the UK’s newly formed regulator, at a time when the industry is facing some major introspection. The UK North Sea was suffering from falling production, low exploration rates, and ever higher costs, even before the oil price collapse, resulting in the UK Government commissioning the Wood Review, an outcome of which was the formation of the OGA.

“My time at BP taught me some really good petroleum engineering work flows - they have got the field basics,” she says. “Working with the smaller companies, you can make some decisions quicker, but they’re not always the right decisions because they don’t have those work flows.

“I never thought I would be working for the regulator, but, reading the Wood Review and seeing all the work leading to the OGA, it became obvious. Working at CNR, I thought I had a helicopter view [looking after multiple assets]. At Oil & Gas UK, I then had a sense of seeing the industry from 35,000ft. It was an obvious step up to the OGA.”

DEVEX, running 18-19 May at Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, has a number of themes this year, including advanced recovery mechanisms, maximizing production, solutions to defer cessation of production, tight gas, best in class field development options, and near field exploration.

Wyllie is making it a mission to make sure there are core samples on show, and there will also be a field trip as part of the event. One of the focus areas is water flood. But it’s not just about looking to apply these technologies, it’s understanding what will work best where. “If you can add something in to your injection water it helps clean the rock,” Wyllie says. “But if you don’t have the basics right you will not get the best out.”