As of today I am effectively no longer working in the oil industry, although in the strictest sense I still am as I’m on gardening leave. That said, in an even stricter sense, I’ve not been working in the oil industry for quite some time. After something like fifteen years it’s time to call it quits, and for two reasons.
The first is that there is simply no work around. Back when I started out in 2003 there was a mountain of work and it picked up exponentially as the oil price rose. My biggest problem back then was a lack of experience, but once I’d got a few years under my belt I landed some half-decent positions with exposure to serious, major projects. But when the oil price crashed in 2015 the entire industry came to a screeching halt with projects being cancelled en masse and thousands of people fired. Since then, from what I can tell, the industry has adopted a holding pattern until the oil price picks up and things return to how they were in the boom years. This is a bit like the dinosaurs waiting for the meteor dust to settle down so the climate goes back to how it was.
From where I’m standing the oil price didn’t so much crash into a trough than return to normal from a ludicrous high; the lowest it got was around $36 per barrel, higher than it was when I joined the industry, and soon stabilised around $50. The problem was the oil industry had forgotten how to function at such prices, and if they’ve since remembered they’re keeping it secret. The other issue is that even when prices eventually rise the oil industry will look very different than in previous eras. National governments will enjoy the majority stake in any sizeable future development, with private oil companies being lucky to retain operatorship and not reduced to a partner in an operating consortium or simply paid a service fee much like any other contractor. in addition, the competency gaps between locals, low-cost engineering centres abroad, and western expats are closing rapidly, and even if they’re not the industry is happy to accept lower standards. Looking down the road, I simply don’t see much opportunity for well-paid western-expat positions on oil and gas projects. There will be some for sure, but nothing like how it was, and with nothing like the pay either.
The second reason is even if major projects were being sanctioned and positions created, I have reached the conclusion there’s no place for someone like me in the modern oil industry. This isn’t just my opinion: I’ve had various managers tell me they’d made a mistake in employing me, and they’d probably be surprised to hear I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked for several companies right through the oil and gas industry’s contracting chain and on many occasions I’ve wondered why they hired me. If I’d lied on my CV and claimed a competence I didn’t have, the fault would be mine. But it was more a case of the interview process selecting someone who is task-orientated, responsible, reliable, and can work independently then putting him in a role consisting of menial admin work micromanaged to a degree you’d not think possible. Like many industries with too much money, the oil business recruits for brains and character then put them in positions where the former is not required and the latter a severe handicap. I have no objection to the oil industry creating process-driven roles that serve little purpose other than to keep people employed, but they ought not to fill them with people who are manifestly unsuitable. I’ve been around long enough, and seen enough outfits big, small, and in between to know the part of the oil industry which employs western expats places a high value on keeping your mouth shut and showing blind obedience to the immediate hierarchy and not much on anything else. Why the hell anyone would think I’d fit in there I don’t know, myself included, and after 15 years of trying it’s time to chuck in the towel and do something else.
What that will be is a subject for another post; you’ll find out soon enough.