Learn About The 5 Hottest Jobs In Oil and Gas
We've got average salary, the educational requirements and an explanation of just what exactly a stationary engineer does
by Jesse Snyder
Alberta’s oil and gas industry is facing a labour crunch. As drilling and mining practices develop, employers will require increasingly skilled and specialized workers. Energy producers will aggressively seek out the best and brightest as they scramble to reach production forecasts. But filling these positions won’t be a cakewalk. These workers are often in short supply, particularly in the oil and gas sector where the workdays can be arduous. These opportunities go well beyond the typical grunt work associated with the energy industry. Indeed, working in the oil and gas sector doesn’t necessarily mean toiling in the mud or fastening heavy clamps to an oily wellbore. Many of these recruits are sought-after professionals, from geologists to chemists, who are upsetting the old-school stereotype of the industry.
Job: Community Outreach Worker
Field: Human Resources
Average Salary: $60,000 – $75,000
Typical Employer: Oil and gas producers
Education Required: Communication degree, BA in social work
What They Do: Engage and partner with communities
Community outreach workers spend most of their time on the road, meeting with band members or municipal governments. They attend community events and communicate with business leaders and developers. It’s a gruelling schedule at times, says Rachel Moore, the vice-president of Savanna Energy Services’ human resources department. As oil sands development becomes more politicized, outreach workers are now just as important to the operational success of a company as are on-site employees.
But for Moore, community outreach is about more than just finding workers. It’s about sharing the wealth generated by the province’s energy sector with a wider range of communities. “It does amaze me that we’ve got so much wealth in Alberta, and yet there are lots of people who aren’t able to share in the boom,” she says.
In the northern part of the province, for example, there are many aboriginal communities with plenty of able-bodied workers who can help meet some of Alberta’s labour demands. But these communities don’t necessarily trust industry, and so working with them requires tact and diplomacy.
Job: Offshore Seismic Explorer
Average Salary: $105,000 – $120,000
Typical Employer: Offshore drilling companies
Education Required: Geophysics degree, seismology degree
What They Do: Read marine geology data for oil and gas deposits
These geologists take seismic readings of the ocean floor by trolling “streamers” behind a vessel that produces sound waves every 12 to 15 seconds. The streamers, up to seven kilometres in length, are attached to hydrophones that respond to the underwater sound waves and give evaluators an idea of what lies in the rocky layers beneath.
The explorer’s readings are integral to deciding how and where drilling occurs. And as drilling becomes more and more expensive, producers expect increasingly accurate readings.
This isn’t a job for a social butterfly, though. “They can be pretty long campaigns,” says Chris Mylde, the head of business development at Sproule Associates, a well-evaluation consulting firm. Many of the companies contracting these explorations are Calgary-based outfits like Shell Canada and Husky Energy, even though offshore operations tend to be in the far reaches of Canadian waters. Explorers can spend weeks out at sea, sometimes even venturing into remote regions of the Arctic Ocean.
Job: Stationary and Steam Engineer
Average Salary: $105,000 – $120,000
Typical Employer: Oil and gas producers
Education Required: Fourth-year power engineering, stationary engineering
What They Do: Generate steam for mining and drilling operations
Engineers have always been sought after in the oil and gas sector, but the proliferation of steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) in the heart of Alberta’s oil sands has really heated up the job market for steam engineers. They typically monitor and regulate the highly pressurized process of generating the steam used to break up and liquidize heavy oil.
Steam engineers are essentially power engineers who have earned an additional certificate in steam generation. They are in especially high demand on projects like Encana’s Foster Creek and Christina Lake or Nexen’s Long Lake. “We need steam for everything in the North, whether it’s SAGD or mining,” says Mary MacDonald, the dean of MacPhail School of Energy at SAIT.
The imbalance between supply and demand is daunting. Just under 400 power engineers graduate in Alberta every year, but their profession remains the shortest-staffed of any in the industry. SAIT is opening a new engineering building in the fall of 2012 to accommodate the uptick in demand. For their part, companies are spending money to make their job openings as attractive as possible. In some instances, these engineers have been known to earn over $200,000 annually. “They’re getting just about anything they want because they’re in such demand,” MacDonald says.
Job: Drilling Fluid Technician
Average Salary: $110,000 – $125,000
Typical Employer: Research labs and drilling fluid suppliers
Education Required: Chemistry degree, fourth-year petroleum engineering
What They Do: Test and research the chemical makeup of fluids
When people think of a chemist, they might conjure up an image of a frizzy-haired scientist labouring over a bunch of bubbling Erlenmeyer flasks. But chemists are increasingly crucial to the energy industry, as well. The influx of unconventional drilling, which uses a range of chemicals in its processes, has sent producers on the hunt for effective drilling fluids. These fluids, often referred to as mud, contribute substantially to the productivity of oil and gas wells by breaking up the earth, loosening heavy oil deposits and lubricating the drill.
An effective fluid can mean millions of dollars in production revenue, and that is where drilling fluid technicians come in. They are responsible for pilot testing these fluids to find the ideal chemical recipe, one that will minimize environmental damage while allowing for high recovery rates. They work with lab equipment like spectrophotometers, lubricity testers and centrifuges, testing for viscosifiers, thinners and polymers – some of the main ingredients in drilling mud – and looking for ways to enhance them.
It’s not easy work. “It’s a specialized occupation,” says Tami Anderson, human resources co-ordinator at Newpark, a company that employs around 20 technicians and is always looking for more.
Job: Soil Reclamation Technologist
Field: Environmental science
Average Salary: $75,000 – $90,000
Typical Employer: Land-filling and reclamation service providers
Education Required: Environmental sciences
What They Do: Sample and reclaim contaminated soil
Environmental damage is an inevitable consequence of oil and gas extraction. Soil can be contaminated by anything from metals to salts to hydrocarbons. But scientists are discovering innovative land and soil reclamation methods, creating a whole crop of new jobs.
Soil reclamation technologists visit developed areas after production has commenced. Much of the job is done in the sampling stage, when they decide how best to use or dispose of the soil. These technologists (similar to geotechnical engineers) are responsible for filling out reports for future reference and consulting with industry for the least intrusive reclamation tactics. Many of the sampling stations tend to be remote, and technologists can spend weeks on a well site collecting samples.
Some of the leading soil reclamation work is done through landfilling, in which contaminated soil is held within a synthetic liner for storage. That contaminated earth is then covered with a clean topsoil and replanted with naturally growing vegetation. Soil technologists are expected to know which plants will have the best chance of taking root and restoring the land.
Soil technologists are typically graduates of environmental sciences specializing in soil studies. Their education gives them a range of opportunities in the industry. Outside of soil reclamation, oil and gas firms are now addressing issues like erosion and groundwater contamination. Experts are always looking into new technologies, including the use of charcoal to remediate contaminated soil.