Volume: 2 | Issue: 1

2013—The Year of the Facilities Engineer

I extend a warm welcome to 2013, which henceforth will be known as the year of the facilities engineer.

As I mentioned in my inaugural column in February 2012, we are playing a more important role today than we ever have in the delivery of hydrocarbon assets to meet the world’s energy needs. We are the architects and constructors of equipment and structures so enormous and complex that they require our many subdisciplines working together to deliver them. In this way, we are unique.

As SPE members, we are by definition petroleum engineers. By function, we are facilities engineers. By discipline, we are mechanical, civil, chemical, electrical, or other engineers. By job title, we may be project engineers, technical specialists, or managers. Our blend of subdisciplines and roles make facilities engineers indispensible to meet the challenges of today’s energy industry.

It is estimated that the oil and gas industry will spend more than $600 billion on capital and expenditure this year—a significant portion of which will be under our purview. We will be responsible for designing, constructing, and operating a multitude of facilities projects across the globe. We will factor in process and energy efficiencies, meet environmental constraints and standards, develop and deploy new technologies, use new materials, and go deeper and farther into harsher environments. We will deliver more effective designs in human factors engineering and process safety than we have ever before.

So there, you have it: 2013 is the year of the facilities engineer.

Building Subsea Engineers

One of my challenges in 2013 is to build a more effective career path for facilities engineers in my company. My focus will be subsea, but my aim is to build competency across the skills sets under the projects, facilities, and construction umbrella.

We have recently upgraded our abilities to “build” subsea engineers from the basic elements of graduate chemical, mechanical, or electrical engineers, etc., but this takes time. We estimate that it will take about 5 years to build a solid subsea engineer into a skilled practitioner.

 In that 5-year time frame, we plan to introduce a blend of structured tuition and experiential work assignments under the guidance of a designated mentor. Although the concept has been developed for several years, this is the first year that we are rolling out a subsea engineering curriculum and work assignments to match.

That takes care of one end of the workforce spectrum—that is, the next generation of facilities engineers in one specialty, but what about those folks (like myself) who have one eye on the retirement horizon? How do we effectively glean all those years of knowledge and experience and place it in the corporate memory and into the minds of our less experienced engineers?

A knowledge transfer plan that identifies a method of teaching and transfer that makes sense for the subject matter and the individual is one solution. Proactively allowing adequate time for the process and viewing it as a key job responsibility of both the teacher and the student is necessary for success. Valuing the “technology transfer hour” as much as an “engineering hour” in our business is a step we need to take.

 In my experience, our industry has not done technology transfer well in the past. This time, we have no choice: Our capital projects and engineering challenges are becoming more complex and our demographics are bimodal—the old and the young. (See this issue’s PFC Roundup for more information on our industry’s generational gap.)

Selling Ourselves Short in the “Wow” Factor

Recently I was talking to a bright 16-year-old about my work and our industry. Our conversation meandered to the role of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) in deepwater oil and gas production. Although he, like most teenagers, is technologically aware, but like most technologically aware teenagers, he is unaware of the extent of technology we use in our industry.

I described the goal of developing a field resident minisubmarine that can fly over the seabed and monitor subsea systems for reliability and asset integrity, while also smart enough to perform light intervention, if necessary. He was awed when I described some of the sensor technologies being developed and how these technologies need to be capable of working in 3000 m of water and 200 km from a host.

The AUV development is quite the challenge and illustrative of just how much technology we use and how we often sell ourselves short when describing how exciting our industry can be.

This conversation got me thinking about SPE outreach and led me back to a resource that I have not used for a couple of years: the energy4me website (www.energy4me.org). This is an excellent resource that I have used in the United States and Australia to inspire middle school and high school students to learn more about the energy industry and to promote science education in our schools.

There is a tremendous amount of material available in energy4me, and SPE works to support members’ endeavors in education and the development of increased public understanding of our industry. If you are involved or your company is engaged in public outreach and education, this is one resource you should not miss.

One small gripe I have is that in the careers brochure, facilities engineering is not listed as a “petroleum engineering” specialty. This is indicative of facilities engineers historically being an underserved constituency in our industry, but this magazine shows this is no longer the case.

I plan to call SPE to request a change in the brochure. In my school classroom talks, the key elements of the facilities engineering discipline have always been well received. What better time is there to bring our discipline to the forefront? After all, 2013 is the year of the facilities engineer!


Paul S. Jones is the subsea manager at Chevron and a past SPE technical director for Projects, Facilities, and Construction. He is a member of the Editorial Board of Oil and Gas Facilities.


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