The “Great Crew Change” means oil and gas companies should turn to technology to help avoid chaos in field operations

Oil and gas is an industry that even in the best of times can be frenetic.  24×7 field operations and ever-changing conditions often make life unpredictable, disruptive and stressful.  In short: chaotic.

At Geoforce, our driving principle and the reason we exist as a company is the belief that field operations don’t have to be chaotic.  Our founders experienced this chaos first hand and believed that technology (in our case GPS tracking of field equipment with the world’s only Zone 0 – certified device, the GT1), could be harnessed to bring order to field operations.

Today, chaos is rampant in our industry, especially while oil hovers around $50 per barrel.  The real news is that the risk of chaos in the oilfield is likely to soon get worse.  The “Great Crew Change,” the pending massive retirement of the Baby Boomers, will leave the oilfield without the experienced employees who joined the industry during the boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  As these workers go, they take with them invaluable knowledge about oilfield operations which is replaced, in many cases, with uncertainty.

The Great Crew Change is potentially exaggerated by a double-whammy of forces driving this irreplaceable experience to the sidelines:

  1. The natural aging of workers who are choosing to retire on their own
  2. Accelerated (un-planned) retirements and layoffs due to the oil price decline

Let’s take a look at both of these factors:

Natural aging of the oil and gas workforce

It’s a fact that there is a large “bubble” of oil and gas veterans who were hired in the late 1970s and 1980s.  That spurt of hiring was followed by a nearly two-decade lull in new recruitment as the industry suffered from low prices for nearly 20 years.  A graph showing the hiring of petroleum engineers starkly illustrates this point.

The rub comes in the knowledge gap between the veteran employees who hold the experience, and the recent wave of new hires that has recently joined the industry. The “old hands” are go-to-guys for decision making on the fly, since there are few situations they haven’t seen before.

One example is a global offshore services company which leans heavily on a single, 60-ish veteran for guidance on exactly what equipment to take to the field when called for a rush well-intervention job offshore.  Unfortunately, this wise sage is also seriously ill, and his frequent absences can adversely impact the success of field operations.

Accelerated retirements and layoffs

In their haste to cut head count during the pricing downturn, many companies are offering early retirement packages to their most senior employees.  Unfortunately, along with shedding salary expenses, these organizations risk losing experience that can’t be measured on a balance sheet.   This “knee jerk,” over-reaction of some public companies is already drawing attention.  Some are warning that companies will regret the wave of firings.

As an example, one of the largest global oilfield services companies recently eliminated the positions of an entire team focused on implementing remote monitoring solutions for chemical management.  With those cuts, went decades of understanding of how technology can help cut production costs and reduce downtime.  This comes at the exact same time producers are clamoring for cost-saving solutions in chemical use, which is the third highest cost to lease holders.

The Silver Lining:  A new generation of more tech-savvy workers

Given the fact that “ask the old guy” is no longer an option at many organizations, what choice do companies have but to turn to technology and data to provide insight?  Fortunately, Geoforce offers solutions  that can help.  Among these are:

  • Remote Monitoring of engine runtime to drive more efficient maintenance programs.
  • Track and Trace for Field equipment to reduce hoarding, and increase asset utilization.
  • Field equipment Compliance Management software to lower the risk of non-certified or non-maintained equipment getting sent to job sites or requiring delay of jobs.
  • GPS based Rental Invoice Auditing to eliminate discrepancies in rental billings caused by “he said/she said” disputes.

One bright spot is that many of the industry’s new workers have grown up in a much more tech savvy world than the veterans they are replacing.   As a result, they are open to using technology to provide some of the answers that may have recently left their company during the “Great Crew Change”.