Graduating in gas

What is it like to graduate as a gas industry professional in 2016? Gas Today speaks to fresh engineering graduate Robert Murray on the opportunities the natural gas industry offers incoming industry professionals and why it remains a viable career trajectory for many.

What is the educational pathway that led you to your current role?

I studied a Bachelor of Science with a major in chemical systems at the University of Melbourne from February 2011 until November 2013. I followed that with a Master of Engineering (Chemical) from February 2014 until November 2015.

What prompted you to embark on a career in the natural gas industry?

From a young age, I have found the methods people use to produce energy very interesting – whether it be for stationary energy or transport purposes. Once I began gaining an interest in chemical engineering, it became apparent that the oil and gas industry offered a good blend of these two interests.

The allure of being able to work in many interesting places around the world as well as working on facilities that are truly marvels of engineering – such as gas processing plants or rigs – only increased my interest in the industry. I had no particular preference for either the oil or natural gas industry, and when Woodside offered me the vacation position for the summer of 2014, it seemed like an ideal job and I was quick to accept.

What were your lasting impressions from your fieldwork with Woodside in 2014/15?

The work I did was very interesting and was centred around finding the most (and least) efficient units on the North West Shelf Gas Plant in terms of fuel gas consumption per product produced. This was followed by assessing where fuel gas was being unnecessarily consumed and proposing solutions to reduce that consumption.

What was unexpected about the work was that I was stationed in the Perth office, while my line manager and graduate buddy were onsite in Karratha and all the work I did was related to the Karratha Gas Plant (KGP).

What this taught me was how to work independently and autonomously and be accountable to my own deadlines. I had to efficiently make use of my line manager’s precious time during phone calls. I got to work with the staff at the head office; they were all friendly and helpful and this gave me the opportunity to source my own contacts within the company.

During the vacation program, I also made two trips to the site – spending almost two weeks at KGP where I had firsthand experience of how the facility is run and had the chance to present my findings to the people who would best be able to use them.

I had several lasting impressions from my fieldwork with Woodside:

  • Woodside’s focus on safety in daily operations (both at KGP and head office) impressed me and made me feel safe while working.
  • The people working within the company were extremely friendly and helpful, which made doing my work very pleasant. The people who helped me were also extremely capable and experienced, and taught me a lot that I was able to take back to university for my final year.
  • The desire of the people coordinating the vacation program to show me career progression options and help me grow as an engineer also made me feel welcome and valued.

Tell us more about your newly acquired permanent position at Woodside.

I recently accepted a position as a graduate safety and risk engineer at Woodside and began working for the company in February 2016. At Woodside, safety and risk engineers are sourced from all disciplines of engineering and are responsible for in-depth consideration of safety during the entire life-cycle of Woodside’s assets.

Day-to-day activities may range from quantitative modelling of fires and explosions through to risk assessments, design of safety systems and development of safety cases. I have no doubt the position will be an interesting one that will allow me to apply my knowledge of chemical engineering to the important role of keeping Woodside’s staff safe.

Was oil and gas perceived as a popular career pathway for the other students in your course?

It definitely was within my cohort. Oil and gas is often portrayed as one of the quintessential chemical engineering industries – where chemical engineers get to utilise their knowledge of temperatures, pressures, fluid mechanics, chemical reactions, process safety and equipment design. The industry is also associated with travel and attractive remuneration.

A combination of all these factors is what made the oil and gas industry so attractive to my classmates.

Did you have a role model who you wanted to follow in the footsteps of when you decided to work in the oil and gas industry?

My father is a chemical engineer who has worked in the mining industry for all of his career; he progressed through the ranks and ran a platinum mining company for almost 15 years. I always found what he did quite interesting and I’m sure his career is what sparked my interest in chemical engineering. However, my interest in the oil and gas industry is entirely of my own making.

The gas industry has gone through some tumultuous times in the past few years. How do you feel entering the industry during such challenging times?

On the one hand, entering the industry now makes me nervous. I would obviously like to have a long and successful career, and the cuts that have been seen of late – even among the bigger firms – are always at the back of my mind.

On the other hand, tough conditions require creative and efficient solutions, which will give me the chance to prove my worth as an engineer. On the whole, I believe the challenges facing the industry – both economic and with respect to climate change and the environmental image of the industry – mean that the people working within the industry will have to produce cleaner, cheaper and more efficient technologies and business practices. I am excited to be a part of that new chapter.

What do you think the oil and gas industry can do more of to attract the best graduates to the industry?

The oil and gas industry is already a highly attractive industry to graduates, at least in my experience at university.

What I believe could be improved is how proactive firms are about hiring international students. Very few of the major companies that have vacation or graduate programs in Australia offer these to international students. In my view, this is mostly because of the hassle associated with visa sponsorship and relocation. However, by doing this, these companies are actively excluding some of the top candidates that come out of Australian universities from consideration.

It is also worth noting that this is not a practice unique to oil and gas firms, but is the norm among many big companies. Many international oil and gas graduates wish to remain in Australia and want to use the skills they learnt here for the benefit of their adopted country. Allowing them that opportunity will give the oil and gas industry access to a group of high-quality, hardworking graduates who have previously never been part of the talent pool.

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