Exciting, fun, vibrant.
These are a few of the upbeat words currently used to describe today's oil and gas industry, where activity has been bolstered by the now-long period of acceptably high commodity prices.
Given all the downsizing of the past, however, and the relatively small pool of available new professionals, there is much hand-wringing over who will staff the industry to continue moving it forward.
The problem extends beyond head count. In fact, there a number of issues that need to be addressed, according to Dallas geophysicist and author Alistair Brown, current editor of the EXPLORER's popular Geophysical Corner:
- There is a shortage of people associated with the cyclical nature of the industry and layoffs.
- Many of these people are not as trained in some of the technologies as they should be.
- Management in the oil companies is not especially versed in the technology and doesn't know what geoscience is all about -- and, consequently, can't give appropriate guidance to working geoscientists.
- Everything today has extreme computer orientation -- and that's both good and bad.
"A lot of graduates come through the university with tremendous dependence on computers, which are wonderful things," Brown said. "But they tend to cloud the mind, and we've swung from not enough dependence on computers to too much.
"Also, there are a huge number of people confused and bewildered by the all the technologies we have," he added. "It's very difficult to be abreast of all these things.
"More and more geologists are doing seismic interpretation, and they're understandably confused by all the bells and whistles available to them," Brown said.
"Rather than try to understand all these things suddenly, they resort to looking for the silver bullet by pressing some buttons."
At the other extreme, there are some geoscientists around who once interpreted black and white wiggles on seismic with colored pencils. They find converting to a workstation very difficult -- and err in the other direction.
Somewhere in the middle is a happy medium, but it will take a concerted effort to get there.
At least part of the answer to the problem is a retraining and re-educating focus within the geoscience community, according to Brown, who, with some of his colleagues, is working on this by teaching courses and helping within the companies.
"Getting the ear of management is one of the most difficult and significant issues," Brown said. "A lot of them are not reading the literature for the most part, and getting through and getting their attention would be a significant leap forward."
In large part the current problems stem from the reality that the business is an inexact science. This can make it particularly difficult for some of the more analytically trained people to understand what it takes to do the best job.
"Ours is a special business with loads of gray areas in the middle," Brown said. "There isn't the right answer; there's the closest approximation to the right answer."