Interview

His Excellency Mohammed bin Hamad Al Rumhy, Minister of Oil and Gas, Sultanate of Oman

His Excellency Mohammed bin Hamad Al Rumhy, Minister of Oil and Gas, Sultanate of Oman

The Way Ahead Interview invites senior figures who shape our E&P industry to share their wisdom, experience, and deep knowledge with the young E&P professional community. Each interview is an open conversation that explores the careers, advice, and vision of these successful individuals.

The interview aims to uncover lessons learned from the wide perspectives of these prominent leaders. The series of interviews includes conversations with senior figures from government, the E&P industry, professional bodies, international organizations, and other entities that contribute to the oil and gas industry’s future.

Each interview aims to reveal new insights and valuable lessons. It is hoped that these interviews will help young E&P professionals learn how to nurture their own personal skills, understand the nature and challenges of our industry, and grasp the technologies, developments, and issues that are key to creating our industry future.

For this interview, we travel to meet His Excellency Mohammed bin Hamad Al Rumhy, Oman Minister of Oil and Gas, in Muscat, the warm, coastal capital of the Sultanate of Oman. Oman’s oil and gas industry is the latest installment in the story of a civilization that stretches back more than a millennium. There are more than 500 castles in Oman, bearing witness to the country’s glorious history. I invite you to join me in a setting of rugged mountains, panoramic views of the ocean, and striking desert scenery that defines Oman, and sense the warmth of the Omani people, as I did. His Excellency’s wisdom and advice provide an insightful perspective of our industry, within a wider global context, and with a uniquely Middle Eastern flavor.—John MacArthur, TWA Interview Editor


Your Excellency, may I ask you what in your early life led you to choose a career in the E&P industry?

The oil industry is important in this part of the world. I was interested in engineering, and I wanted to study engineering for a career in the oil industry. I discovered that there is a degree in petroleum engineering and applied to study in U.K. and U.S. universities. I had good offers and settled on Imperial College in London. The rest is history.

What was your first job in the E&P industry, and what was your impression of the industry when you first joined? How has your view of the industry changed?

During university, we were encouraged to spend our time in the oil industry, gaining work experience. In 1978, I   was working in operations and drilling for Petroleum Development Oman (PDO). I still remember an experienced engineer taking me aside and telling me that the oil would run out within 2–3 years! I thought that was a gloomy prospect and wondered that perhaps I should have studied electronics!

Within 2 years, I was back and started in PDO as a petroleum engineer. PDO was exploring, with success after success. Oman’s basins offered great diversity in petroleum fluids and geology. There was light oil, heavy oil, gas, tight gas, clastics, carbonates—you name it. This variety was very exciting, with so much to learn in one place. This completely reversed my view of the gloomy picture to a very positive one.

There are tremendous prospects for the E&P industry in Oman with a stimulating variety of challenges for petroleum engineers. I still hold that view today and see new waves of technology such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR) adding an extra positive dimension.

What are the most memorable experiences in your career since?

Graduate engineers were a rare species when I started working as a petroleum engineer. I was warmly welcomed, but then quickly thrown into the desert to gain practical experience on the wellsite. Someone told me to enjoy and make the most of that time because one would not have that much responsibility again for a long time. He was right. You can’t imagine how tough it was in the 1970s. Logistics and communication lacked all advances we see in our modern industry today, so I had to make lots of decisions with little guidance. It was scary, but it was a great feeling when you got it right. That was very memorable.

Another memorable event was when I was appointed Minister of Oil and Gas. I really felt I was swimming into an ocean of enormous challenges. But every day when I go home I know I have given something back and contributed to my country. That is a very special feeling.

What advice would you give to professionals in the early stages of their E&P careers?

In the old days, I was told that a petroleum engineer today is a managing director tomorrow. A modern version of that message is that deep technical experience is the essential foundation for every young professional. You must build experience.

So stick with it, because experience plays a major role in future opportunities.

Another lesson I have learned is never to underestimate the importance of seemingly humble jobs. Every person has an important part to play, with every piece of the jigsaw creating the full picture. Your potential will be recognized if you are patient.

Who has helped you the most in your career, and what lessons did you learn from your mentors?

When I was a young PhD student at Imperial College, I had two professors who inspired me. Professor Colin Wall gave me endless encouragement, and Professor John Archer helped shape my research, and both were great mentors. I learned so much from watching how they behaved in meetings and tutorials and how they acted kindly towards people. I still have mentors today. It never ends. I have learned a great deal from the wisdom and vision of our leaders and the people of Oman.

What issues are most important in your life and work? With these in mind, what advice would you give young E&P professionals?

Family is extremely important to me. Parenthood engenders responsibility for continuity of ethics, behaviors, and values in our children. We each have an obligation to help the next generation of citizens. Young professionals also have a responsibility to ensure work is not everything.

Work and life balance is important. Make sure you have outside interests to make life interesting, and think about what your future goals are outside of work. When you are young, it is difficult to think of post-retirement, but it is worthwhile to plan ahead to make sure you will have hobbies and interests outside of work and stay in good health. I recommend golf and fishing!

There are many young professionals starting out in their careers thinking their only option is a career with a private commercial enterprise. What advice would you give those who have not yet considered a career serving in government? How does each compare, in your experience?

A few years of industrial experience is very useful prior to service in government. You have to understand the industry. National oil companies that do not drill wells still need people who understand how it is done.

I would recommend government as a rewarding career change. Partnership has replaced policing nowadays, and this is win-win. Governments and commercial enterprises are more aligned now than ever in the past. We share similar philosophies about commercial thinking, improving efficiency, and delivering results.

What are the key technology challenges you see for the E&P industry now and in the next 10 years? What can young E&P professionals do to help?

Oil and gas production is a growing challenge as consumer demand grows. Countries like India and China are waking giants, and we can think of Africa as a sleeping giant. Everyone has ambitions for a better tomorrow.

We can hope for alternative energy to meet the supply gaps, but we will still need more oil and gas from harsh areas like deep water, and by revisiting our existing fields, for example, by applying enhanced-oil-recovery techniques. I encourage young professionals to seek technical solutions to increase oil recovery factors from the low teens in some of our fields to more than 50%. We can supply oil and gas for the rest of this century through developing and implementing new technology, and young professionals are central to this next phase of our E&P industry.

What other challenges are there? What is on the horizon for the Middle East? How should young E&P professionals prepare?

The Middle East has a moral obligation to meet oil and gas demand from the international community. The Gulf States and Iran are custodians of some 60% of known reserves, and this is a huge responsibility, not a boasting right. The challenges of our responsibility to supply hydrocarbons continue, and we are doing quite well. We are happy to see that other parts of the world are helping to supply the energy that the world needs. Newcomers to our E&P industry should value their contribution to the international community.

How is the Ministry of Oil and Gas, and the Sultanate of Oman, encouraging young people to join the industry? What can young E&P professionals do to help?

The E&P industry in Oman is very attractive. Many young people compete to study geoscience and petroleum engineering degrees at Sultan Qaboos U. Our standards of teaching are high, and we have excellent facilities to teach and train future professionals. The employment prospect for young E&P professionals in Oman— and indeed, the Gulf region—is bright.

What changes would you make to the way our E&P industry attracts people?

I really feel we need to explore how we compare to other industries. We must benchmark with industries that are successful at attracting and developing people. Industries such  as IT/telecommunications are perceived as being more glamorous, and we are not addressing this issue adequately. There is competitive remuneration and intellectual challenge in our industry, so I see no reason why we cannot appear as attractive as any other industry.

You have traveled a great deal. What advice do you have for young E&P professionals when they get the opportunity to travel or work abroad?

Travel is a wonderful opportunity. Now, more than ever, we need to understand one another, and living together with people removes misconceptions. Each one of us acts as an ambassador for the human race, for peace and harmony, and brings cultures together. Every person that has an overseas posting will almost always come back home with very positive memories. My advice is that traveling or working abroad is a necessary experience for E&P professionals.

How did you get involved in SPE? What has your SPE membership meant for you?

I was a student member and joined in my first year at university. When I was a student, SPE helped me because the SPE papers are a great source of learning and the first point of reference when you have a technical problem. SPE plays an important role in disseminating knowledge, especially for smaller companies that do not have access to large R&D resources.

You have a very busy professional life, but what do you do to relax and maintain a stress-free life? What is your ideal escape?

I like to relax with friends and family. Some people need solitude to relax, but I am alone enough on flights and in hotels. When I am in London, I like to get out of the hotel and walk around the streets with the hustle and bustle of people all around. My ideal escape is to take part in activities with friends and family that help me to forget day-to-day work. Nobody talks about work when we play golf, even when I play with work colleagues. I also enjoy sea fishing. We like to take a boat out with a few friends. I have always found the sea very calming.

What would you say if you were to give a brief speech to young E&P professionals working in the industry about its attractions, and specifically working in government, or having the opportunity to work in the Sultanate of Oman?

Our industry is truly international, and you can never be isolated because our industry touches on every other. We should be proud and positive about our E&P industry. We should cherish it and realize how lucky we are. Globalization is a new thing to many, but it has been with our industry for more than 50 years. We may have taken that special knowledge for granted in the past, but now we can teach others.

In government we serve our people. With due respect to others, my shareholders are the people of Oman, and our stock market is the country. It is a great privilege to serve generations of people. Government service tastes different from other jobs—it is sweet and nice. I think it is an excellent choice for a later career.

I am, of course, biased when it comes to Oman. This is one of the best countries in the world. Oman is beautiful, safe, and the people are warm and hospitable. No one has fear when they leave their house or when they go home late at night. There is the blue sea, the mountains, and the interior. A wonderful place to live, and Oman has a full range of exciting challenges for young engineers and geoscientists as well. You name it, it is here: high permeability, tight, fractured, sour, deep, shallow, artificial lift, advanced drilling, EOR, the list goes on and on. I wish I could bring all young engineers and geoscientists to Oman to experience this technical variety. I was most fortunate to experience this early in my career, and the future continues to offer exciting opportunity.

His Excellency Mohammed bin Hamad Al Rumhy became Minister of Oil and Gas of the Sultanate of Oman in December, 1997. The Sultanate occupies the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, with a population of approximately 2.4 million. According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, Oman has an estimated 5.5 billion bbl of proven recoverable oil reserves and 30Tcf of gas. Given that the amount of oil originally in place in Oman is estimated to be 50 billion bbl, finding ways to increase recoverability is a priority.

Before his current position, Al Rumhy held academic faculty positions in petroleum engineering and served as Assistant Dean of Engineering at Sultan Qaboos U. in Oman, and he was awarded the Mitsumae Intl. Foundation Fellowship in Tokyo. From 1980–86, he worked as a petroleum engineer for Petroleum Development Oman. Al Rumhy earned a BS degree and a PhD degree from the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College London, as well as an MS degree from the U. of Tulsa in Oklahoma, all in petroleum engineering. Al Rumhy is married, with two sons, both of whom are currently studying at university. He joined SPE in 1978.