You can get some idea of what an exploitation engineer does just by looking
at the job title. Working in the oil and gas production industry, exploitation
engineers try to figure out new ways to "exploit," or put to productive use,
an existing oil patch or gas field.
Gerald Alexander is an exploitation engineer with a petroleum company.
In a nutshell, he explains, what an exploitation engineer does is "take an
asset, give it a value -- preferably a mature asset that in somebody else's
eyes has no upside value -- buy it at a lower price, exploit it, spend money,
use new technology and new ideas, and come up with...added oil or gas production
and maximize its value."
If that sounds too much like business school jargon, here's a translation.
An exploitation engineer is a petroleum engineer who wears many hats.
Petroleum engineers generally fall into one of four categories: reservoir
engineer, production engineer, drilling engineer or facilities engineer.
An exploitation engineer's job combines the skills of a reservoir engineer,
who determines how much oil is in the ground; a production engineer, who figures
out the best way to get the oil out of the ground; and a business economist,
who decides whether it's worth the investment.
Exploitation engineers examine an oil patch that is no longer considered
productive or one that is considered too expensive to develop, and try to
determine whether money can be made from that patch by using different drilling
techniques, approaches or technology. In other words, their job is simply
to find a way to profitably squeeze every last drop of oil out of an oilfield.
"If an older field with an older operator-owner has been produced one way
and that's the only way they've tried, they recognize that spending any more
money there would not be viable and would then be looking to unload and hand
off the remaining liability," explains Alexander.
Employers are usually smaller, independent oil exploration, production
and service companies that lack the resources to keep specialists in each
field on staff. The exploitation engineer applies general engineering principles
and finalizes everything with respect to business economics.
When exploitation engineers are employed by larger companies, their role
tends to focus more on the business aspects.
"In terms of function, we may call them reservoir engineers," says Wayne
Kopp, vice-president of human resources at an oil company.
"An engineer could be working in pure production, could be working in reservoir
development, or they could be on a team that we have designated as exploitation.
In other words, we know the field is there, we just have to find ways to get
more out of it."
The path to this career isn't always a straight or rigidly defined one.
"Once you've left college and you're working in the industry and you've got
a basic understanding of the industry," says exploitation engineer Christine
Gray, "it's then [a matter of] recognizing the key points to make decisions,
common sense, and being able to manage your time."
Alexander reckons you need at least five to 10 years of experience in the
industry before you can acquire the wide range of skills and knowledge that
you'll need to quickly assess the potential value of a particular oilfield.
"It's not very often that you'll come out as a graduate to become an exploitation
engineer right away," says Alexander.
"You'll come out of university and go into a particular discipline -- whether
it's production, drilling, reservoir, geology -- you'll get some training
in that and then slowly work your way into exploitation. You need the field
experience to become an exploitation engineer."
Design ways to get more use out of existing energy sources
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