Oil And Gas production Engineer
New extraction techniques are driving growth and demand for engineers while also raising questions.
BY EVA KAPLAN-LEISERSON
Depending on the speaker, the production of natural gas and oil from unconventional sources using hydraulic fracturing is either the saving grace of U.S. energy, the economy, and manufacturing or a disastrous trend with dire consequences for the environment and communities.
The debate on extraction from sources such as shale is contentious, with heated opinions on both sides and a need for better science and data. But no matter where your opinions fall, what's undeniable is the striking effect of unconventional gas and oil on the U.S. energy picture. This shake-up offers implications for many sectors, including engineering. How are the changes affecting employment and academia?
The Numbers Game
Injecting water, sand, and additives to create fissures in rock isn't a new strategy. But the combination of fracking with long horizontal wells has enabled the release of gas in extensive areas and made wells productive enough to be economical, explains Dan Hill, P.E., head of Texas A&M's petroleum engineering department. The methods have "changed the game" from a focus on finding deposits to how to extract resources, he says.
According to a report on unconventional energy sources from business information and advisory company IHS, U.S. natural gas production has risen 25% over the last five years, largely due to shale gas production. That source rose from just 2% of natural gas production in 2000 to 37% in 2012, according to America's New Energy Future: The Unconventional Oil and Gas Revolution and the U.S. Economy.
The increasing supplies of gas are lowering costs of materials and fuel for manufacturing, leading some to credit the boom for a U.S. industrial revival.
The same techniques causing the natural gas boom are also being applied to oil, especially as gas prices have fallen due to an increase in supply. U.S. oil production reached an average 7 million barrels per day in November and December 2012, the highest volume since December 1992, according to the Energy Information Administration.
But even more dramatic are the predictions for the U.S. to reach energy independence and become an exporter. The International Energy Agency's 2012 World Energy Outlook envisioned a scenario in which the U.S. could become a net exporter of natural gas by 2020 and almost net self-sufficient (balancing imports with exports) by 2035.
All this activity means a need for workers, including engineers. Despite slowdowns in natural gas production, the oil and gas industry still faces a talent crisis that is driving high salaries and multiple job offers for graduates, according to schools.
Hill, who last November testified on unconventional energy research needs to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, estimates there are "tens of thousands" of engineering jobs directly related to shale and other low permeability developments. He expects job creation to continue, especially as more reservoirs are discovered across the country.
Where in California can a good oil and gas job be found?
California has a lot of oil and gas, but the easiest way to get a job related to gas and oil would be working at a gas station. The money should be more interesting if you get a job with the companies who the oil comes from.