Re-Discover a Career: TWA YP Panel Discusses Benefits of Being in Oil and Gas Industry During Energy Transition
The team of editors from the Discover a Career section of TWA meet to discuss their education, career paths in the oil and gas industry, and what excites them in their everyday work.
Aman Srivastava is a Product owner at Landmark Halliburton. He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in petroleum engineering.
Mohamed Mehana is a staff scientist in the computational earth science group at Los Alamos National Lab. He holds master's and PhD degrees from the University of Oklahoma.
Prithvi Singh Chauhan is studying master's degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University. He holds a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering from IIT-ISM Dhanbad.
Mrigya Fogat is a data scientist with Halliburton. She graduated with a BTech degree in petroleum engineering from Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology in India.
Aman: What do you like about your current job?
Mohamed: I can say two things. First, I love what I'm doing. I get to work on cutting-edge problems. It’s very challenging. We learn new things every day. It’s exciting every time you have a new problem, a new project, new challenges, and try to fix them. I got educated in petroleum engineering, but sometimes I need to learn a new technique or a simulation system, which will be helpful in that particular problem. This keeps the work interesting. You never get bored of it. The second thing is the people. My work environment is very supportive, stimulating, and encouraging. This is how the work environment is structured in the national labs. In such an environment, our perspective with work changes; instead of just, “I'm going to work,” I actually enjoy it.
Prithvi: I’m currently working on two exciting projects where I apply latest machine learning techniques to different areas of the oil and gas industry. I’m also planning to apply them to the energy industry in general, such as application of computer vision algorithms and subsurface imaging or time series forecasting methods with industry-based collaboration. I've been blessed to be working with one of the best people. My mentor, Akhil Gupta, is world renowned in the field of reservoir simulation and its integration with data science. And I also have an opportunity to learn from various outstanding professors at Texas A&M University. I get to do the projects under their guidance. The other thing I enjoy is being in Texas; the energy capital is slowly becoming the technology capital where both these sectors are collaborating and integrating. I meet people who are developing crypto coins from natural gas, and at another event I meet people who are trying to use oil and gas methods and machine learning tools and statistics for wind energy. I’m getting the exposure and awareness of where the world is heading to and trying to adapt myself.
Mrigya: For me, the most exciting part of my job is that it is professionally satisfying to be on the side of finding solutions to problems. In my present role we are deploying artificial intelligence technologies to optimize present processes and improve them. In my short span with Halliburton so far, I’ve seen many kinds of problems ranging from mineral extraction to geophysical data. That's a big variation that I get to work on. Besides that, we were working in global teams with team members from all over the world. They have diverse ways of thinking. There are many new ideas and constructive discussions, which has been important in my growth. I think the whole package is exciting.
Aman: I like two things about my current role. The first is I get to apply the knowledge that I have gained during my engineering years—what I studied in both my mechanical engineering and petroleum engineering degrees. Along with that, I also apply the experience I’ve gained for past several years. I've been in oil industry since 2008. None of the knowledge I gained is completely obsolete for me. I get to apply that on an everyday basis. That's what I like about it. And the second is I'm working with the R&D department. It gives a sense of satisfaction that we are developing something from scratch that we know a drilling engineer or a manager will be able to use hands-on. I'm a hands-on person and that's the best part I love about it. I'm creating something that will help in better designing and processes.
Aman: Can you give an example how your educational background helps in your current role?
Mrigya: I have a degree in petroleum engineering. In general, a degree in engineering gives you an exposure and wires your brain in such a way that we have a way of dividing problems and use science to logically solve it. And besides just classroom education and engineering, we have such good peers that we learn from who are passionate about technology. That in a way really impacts you and your development. It motivates you to use technology to solve problems. Besides that, I had a major in petroleum. I’m currently working on subsurface data. For a person who does not understand what those are, data can just mean numbers. However, if you can make physical sense out of it, data can be resourceful to solve problems. This is why we have subject matter experts in any of our analysis and their reviews are valuable and what they make out of the data is absolutely critical. My level of knowledge cannot match up with them but whenever I'm trying to solve a problem, but I do have a basic understanding of the data because of my degree. That helps me to understand which algorithm might be helpful, what data pre-processing might be helpful, etc.
Prithvi: Since I started my bachelor's degree in 2016 at IIT-ISM Dhanbad, I've had the opportunity to work and learn in different domains of petroleum engineering, from production to drilling and reservoir and traveled to different countries such as working in Petronas, Malaysia and in field of nanotechnology. I was lucky to travel to more than 10 countries and conferences and competitions, most of them by SPE, which led to exposure and awareness to technologies and resources happening around the world and what work people are doing out there—especially networking with leaders and researchers who are at the forefront of the technologies. It helped me realize that I need to learn more and develop the depth of knowledge and understanding of these technologies. Many oil and gas companies are multinationals, and you get to work with a lot of people outside your country, learn the culture, and experience the travels. Like Mrigya said, they help a lot in paving your career ahead. Getting good grades is important but there are simultaneously other things that are important to get ahead in life. Even now, if I see my social circle in Texas, it's mostly the teams that I'm volunteering with at SPE and the different study groups that I’m part of. I'm the first guy to leave my family to a foreign country and working with people at SPE in Houston and Gulf Coast Section helped me never feel that I am outside somewhere.
Mohamed: I agree with them. I have all my degrees in petroleum engineering, my bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD, but I’d say petroleum engineering is an applied field. You have a fundamental understanding of the flow through porous media. and get introduced to different techniques. One of the techniques that I used in my PhD was molecular modeling of the subsurface system. This is very well-developed in chemical engineering. We tried to apply this technique in our research to get a better understanding of how the fluids flow in porous medium. And this is what got me my first job when I started as a postdoc. I used it in my PhD and post-doctoral research and when I became a staff scientist, I got to work on more applied projects related to reservoir modeling, reservoir simulation for hydrocarbons extraction, CO2 sequestration, hydrogen storage, and national security. All these projects deal with the subsurface system and how we can model it better. I found my background in petroleum engineering equipped me to take on these projects. I think my career and my education are very well aligned.
Aman: All three of you have a bachelor's in petroleum engineering but all of you went in different ways in your career path and paved your way toward it. Nothing happens overnight. People think that “Oh yeah, one night I'll just get a splendid job.” I know that does not happen. You all worked hard, and you are where you are right now, and you love your jobs. That's the best part of it.
If I come to myself, my bachelor's was in mechanical engineering. I'm working as a drilling engineer, and what I studied about forces, torque, momentum in mechanical engineering, it still helps me because we do torque and drag analysis on an everyday basis. In my master's, I did petroleum engineering, and it expanded my horizons. Drilling was the main focus at that point in time, but I learned geology, reservoir, and production. I'm enjoying my current role because of the educational background. And whenever it comes to the basic technical calculations such as the trajectory path, you go back down to the basic trigonometry that you studied in high school. I've heard many people say that “My college degree never helped me in my current job.” I don't think that's true. Directly or indirectly, it always helps even if you're not using it. Like Mrigya stated it wires your brain in a way that you start becoming a problem solver. You can deduce and cut down your problem statement into various levels and then you tackle at each level.
Aman: What do you think of the current energy scenario and how do you envision your own career growing toward it?
Prithvi: There is definitely a need for more investment and R&D in the oil and gas industry as I see it, due to supply shock and increasing demand, especially from developing countries such as China and India. The current prices of energy is hurting everyone, especially developing economies, and hindering much needed acceleration that we need for energy transition. How are we going to develop the expensive technologies without any cashflow from traditional technologies helping develop these new technologies? For developing more energy technologies such as wind and solar, our generation has no choice but to adapt and be as versatile as possible. I have been talking to various startup companies through the SPE events and meetings. And I see a lot of transferable technologies of oil and gas industry having applications in other industries. Interning with one of the leading startups and applying data science and machine learning in the energy industry, I was given an opportunity apply the workflow we use in production engineering to a wind farm. This is one example I have started working on, but I see a lot of applications out there that are transferable. If you consider developing offshore wind farms, I see none other than the offshore oil and gas industry doing best than anyone else.
Mohamed: I don't think I have much experience to judge but when we look at the energy landscape, it is always dynamic. Who is producing more? What kind of production it is? The geopolitical landscape determines how things will go. As humankind, we are always trying to find efficient and clean energy sources. This is our quest; we will always try to find this. The last century witnessed our transition from biofuel to coal and from coal to liquid hydrocarbon and form liquid hydrocarbon to natural gas. In order to transition further, something has to be done. We can lead it; we can design it. I think our industry needs to be more efficient and prove that we are innovative about how to use the current resources if we want to have place, or if we want to lead, the energy sector. I think the future is dominated by the subsurface systems. They provide geological storage sites for CO2 and hydrogen. Subsurface systems will always find its role and position in whatever technique or how you decide to use them. If we want to have secure jobs in the industry the best way is to beat the competition with new technologies and new techniques about how to produce hydrocarbon and how to be part of the energy transition equation and not just avoid the competition. Oil and gas is an important resource and makes up 75% of the energy sector. It fuels our civilization. Imagine how our life has changed for the better over the last century because of hydrocarbon. There is always room for innovations and new technology to make that process more efficient.
Mrigya: I believe that energy is the very basis of the modern economy because every process requires energy. The beginning of industrialization to present processes, the very basis of it all is energy. There are many applications of fossil fuels that we see right in front of us. But we're also moving toward renewable energy such as wind farms. What we do not understand is that those wind farms have tons of plastic that go into them which is sourced from hydrocarbons. That shows how the oil and gas industry is deeply embedded in our society and our entire modern economy is deeply dependent on hydrocarbons. And we do also see that there is digital transformation happening in the oil and gas industry to make processes optimal to ensure that we are extracting hydrocarbons in the most efficient and sustainable way. Also, it is the conventional oil and gas companies that have made major investments in carbon capture, utilization, and storage, in battery technologies, etc. The whole spectrum of the energy industry, with renewable, nuclear, geothermal and petroleum, they're all just coming in and for an optimal balance of energy mixture will take time to achieve. With time, the processes will get better. It is quite humbling to be part of such a huge industry, because I believe energy is synonymous to development. Where there is access to energy there is always development. And I do hope to contribute toward the future of affordable, accessible, and sustainable energy.
Aman: What all three of you said was what I was planning to say in a way in bits and pieces. I agree with all of you that geopolitics plays a big role in energy, with the climate change scenario. It's high time that we start paying attention to what we all do personally and professionally. Personally, my point is we should be thinking about the efforts we take toward the carbon footprint that we are creating, or the kind of energy efficiency we are bringing to our daily lives. Are we recycling enough? We should be careful what we're doing around in a person's life. Professionally, Prithvi and Mohamed you guys touched on the topic that the skills can be extrapolated and Mrigya stated very nicely that engineers, it doesn't matter which field you do the engineering, your brain gets wired in a way that you start learning. You start adapting and solving problems. I think we all should start extrapolating our skills outside our own industry or outside our own domain. While being in petroleum, I think we should also start seeing what happens in wind energy, solar, and hydro, geothermal, and nuclear. How can I extrapolate my skills, toward wind energy or solar that they can be improved? Maybe Prithvi will come up with an amazing algorithm which revolutionizes the wind farm industry and that is going to boom the entire sector. It doesn't mean that's a failure of oil and gas. No way. Mrigya, you are right, we are surrounded by oil. The moment we get up from our bed to the moment we go back to sleep, everything we use has oil in it. We cannot just remove oil. Before you say anything about oil industry, please do learn how important and critical oil and natural gas is in your daily lives.
If you just say that from tomorrow there will be no more oil and gas drilling, we go back to stone age. There has to be a balance and we can do that only by empowering ourselves with knowledge. There are innumerable resources available for us to learn about batteries. How, what, what new kind of batteries are being generated, what kind of energy storage systems are being generated? Just go on YouTube. You will find many good resources.
Also be very careful about what you're reading. People who are outside petroleum industry, please go online and look for resources to help you understand how critical oil is, and how important it is to sustaining life.
The current energy scenario is very dynamic and intense. I see my career growing from the fact that I continue to stay in oil and gas and try to make it better, make it more sustainable. And likewise, also trying to learn what is happening outside the industry. I'm trying to learn every day.
Prithvi: There is a communication gap or knowledge gap between how oil is so much an integral part of our life. And, and I think we as engineers and professionals of the industry have a role to communicate those messages and show people the importance of how this energy source is important and why it should not be overlooked. It is our responsibility to propagate the message about how important this is for not only developed nations, but also how it's a chance for developing nations to grow and have energy for their development.
Just one last thing I want to add. Everyone is responsible for the CO2 emissions—I think as a community, as a society, we are all responsible and we should try to find solutions. It is not good to blame one industry. We all benefitted from the cheap energy supply that was provided for years. We all need to work together, and by this I mean not only our industry and state but the whole world; we share the same planet and we need to find better solutions for that.
Mrigya: I will say that most of the governments and agencies suggest that we need to reach “net” zero, not an ablute zero. That is a clear indication of how well they are aware that the word is dependent on hydrocarbons because it's not just a fuel, but it is also a raw material needed for many of the things that we use today. The aim should not be to negate one industry that has caused much of the development in the past one century. The aim is to find an optimal balance in the entire energy mixture. And I think that we are all equally concerned about our environment and are all working toward solutions for it.