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An overview of the oil and gas industry

Energy (oil and gas): industry sector overview

Graduate engineers in the oil and gas industry might find themselves moving into roles that broaden their business skills, such as analyst roles, says Sonia Bingham, a chemical engineer and plant manager at ExxonMobil.

The oil and gas industry can be broken down into three main areas: upstream, which handles the exploration and production of oil and gas; downstream, which deals with the refining, distribution and supply of products; and chemicals, which covers the production and supply of petrochemical products.

Some of the biggest companies in the sector are the integrated gas companies that operate across all three of these areas, including ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Total. There are also companies that specialise in one or two areas, for example there are a number of companies in the UK that operate exclusively in the upstream sector. In addition, there are engineering contractors who specialise in particular disciplines, such as design engineering, and work for the operating companies.

Trends and developments in the oil and gas industry

It is predicted that global energy demand will increase by nearly 25% by 2040. Meeting this demand, along with the dual challenge of mitigating the risks of climate change while boosting standards of living, is going to require additional technological advances. There are known technologies that we can continue to develop, such as carbon capture and storage, but the industry also needs engineers to innovate on new technologies.

Students who are interested in this sector usually want to know more about the future of the industry and the energy challenges it faces. In particular, there is a focus on the impact of electric vehicles in light of the government's announced plans to phase out the sale of new, conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. While electricity generated from solar and wind is expected to increase by around 400%, it is also expected that the role of natural gas will expand in electricity generation and that oil will continue to play a leading role in the world's energy mix, with growing demand driven by commercial transportation and the chemicals industry.

What it's like working in the oil and gas industry

The emphasis on safety, health and the environment is very significant in the oil and gas sector. Engineers typically work in multidisciplinary teams of between 5 and 15 people and you'll usually be working on a range of projects at one time.

Timescales depend on the size and scope of a project; a local project might take less than one year while a grass-roots plant construction will last for multiple years.

Travel is a strong possibility in this industry, especially if your employer has global operations. Some of the world's biggest oil and gas companies operate in the UK, but offer roles both in the UK and internationally.

Getting a graduate engineering job in the oil and gas industry

Students wanting to get into the oil and gas industry should apply for summer internships, placement years and graduate positions. Engineering students can apply for technical roles that make the most of their subject specialism, but their transferable skills are also highly relevant to a range of commercial and business roles in the sector.

Useful skills to possess include an analytical mind, creativity, adaptability, drive and perseverance, interpersonal skills, integrity and a commitment to high standards.

With time, graduate engineers in this area might find themselves moving into roles that broaden their business skills, such as analyst roles, or supervisory positions that give them greater responsibility. It's also likely that you'll become professionally registered with a relevant engineering professional body.

The highlights of a career in oil and gas

  • The chance to solve problems as part of a multidisciplinary team.
  • You can have a global career, working with people of different nationalities and diverse backgrounds.
  • Engineers are challenged to perform to the best of their ability.

The oil and gas industry seeks graduates from the following disciplines:

  • chemical
  • civil/structural
  • electrical
  • environmental
  • instruments
  • manufacturing
  • mechanical

Always check individual employers' requirements.

Thanks to Sonia Bingham for her help with this article. Sonia is a chemical engineer and plant manager at ExxonMobil. She has an MEng in chemical engineering and fuel technology from the University of Sheffield.

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