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Oil’s well

Pranab Ghosh looks at the life and world of people dealing with black gold and making this precious resource ready for use for all of us.

education Updated: Apr 21, 2010 11:27 IST
Pranab Ghosh
Pranab Ghosh
Hindustan Times

At 7 am every day, a helicopter transports Rahul Gupta, an assistant executive engineer with the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), from the manned platform where he stays to an unmanned rig for oil exploration. Once there, Gupta feels like a soldier in the frontier. There’s water all around and he has to take every step with caution. “There is so much grease and oil around you that one misstep will send you sprawling,” he says. Gupta’s work there includes data collection — he has to download the information from the electronic gadgets linked to the oil reservoir or well to his computer — and send it to his base office in Mumbai for analysis of pressure in the well and other factors. This will help experts gauge how productive the reservoir is.

Gupta says he took up petroleum engineering because he loves the physical as well as the technical challenges of his job. “ No other industry fulfils this criteria and I didn’t want to become a couch potato, sitting in front of a computer in some office, the whole day,” he adds.

“Petroleum engineering is about looking at the entire hydrocarbon (which can be either crude oil or natural gas) value chain. It, however, focuses more on upstream operations of the oil and gas industry, i.e. drilling, production, transportation and reservoir engineering,” says Anita Yadav, superintending engineer, production, ONGC. Simply put, petroleum engineers search the world for reservoirs containing oil and natural gas. On discovery of these resources they work with geologists and other specialists to understand the geologic formation and properties of the rock containing the reservoir, determine the drilling methods to be used, and monitor drilling and production operations. They design equipment and processes to achieve maximum and profitable recovery of oil and gas. They rely heavily on computer models to simulate reservoir performance using different recovery techniques.

Petroleum engineering “broadly consists of different areas called drilling, reservoir and production stream,” says Yadav. Drilling deals with “placing a well to tap the pay zone, and depending on its purpose, it may be used for analysing the hydrocarbon pool, its development — i.e. for producing oil/gas,” Yadav points out. Reservoir engineering deals with study of the pool (containing oil/hydrocarbon) and work out ways to exploit it. Production engineering comes into play after the reservoir has been understood and wells have been drilled and the hydrocarbon begins to flow. “It deals with the study of optimising well performance through a suitable completion and production strategy. Production engineers are responsible for flow of well fluid through surface facilities (like pipelines), its subsequent separation into phases like oil, gas and water and bringing it to a quality acceptable by the refineries,” Yadav elaborates.

Given the importance of petroleum in our day-to-day life and the increasing demand-supply gap in the energy sector it can be said that there is a big demand of petroleum engineers, which is likely to grow. “The scope for petroleum engineers is very expansive. There is a constant challenge to bring up the recovery factor from the producing fields and even more pressure on discovering new reserves. All this is translating into a high demand for professionals in the sector,” says Yadav.

And who would be employing these professionals? “They are recruited mainly by national and multinational oil companies, oil engineering companies, service companies and also the energy sector,” says T K Sengupta, general manager, production, ONGC.

What's it about?
Petroleum engineering is a discipline concerned with the subsurface activities related to the production of hydrocarbons — which can be either crude oil or natural gas. These are activities within the upstream sector of the oil and gas industry that include exploration for hydrocarbons. Petroleum engineering requires a good knowledge of many other related disciplines, such as geophysics, petroleum geology, formation evaluation (well logging), drilling, economics, reservoir simulation, well engineering, artificial lift systems, and oil and gas facilities engineering. In other words, the scope of petroleum engineering includes exploration of hydrocarbons, reservoir studies, drilling and well completion, operations and production of oil and gas (onshore and/or offshore) and their transportation. One should be very clear that petroleum refining is not petroleum engineering

Clock Work
Offshore work life:
7 am: Chopper sortie from manned platform to unmanned rig
7.30 am: Prepare for the day’s tasks
8 am: Check all the safety measures. Protective eyewear and helmets are a must
9 am: Inspect the well-head valves and panels to make sure that every thing is working fine
10 am: Check tools and make them ready
10.30 am: Check exploration work, get data
1 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Work on
8 pm: Take chopper back to manned platform
8.30 pm: Call it a day

The Payoff
At the entry level, one may get anything between Rs 3 lakh to Rs 8 lakh a year. A petroleum engineer normally works in harsh conditions in remote areas such as offshore drilling sites, hence is compensated well. His salary is at least 1.5 times more than that of his counterparts in other core sectors. Engineers with added skills earn two-three times as much and career advancement is very fast

Jobs related to data processing and interpretations are done with the help of state-of-the-art software running on sophisticated hardware. Hence one is required to be technologically savvy
. Drilling involves dealing with subsurface conditions of pressures and temperatures and requires high skill with machinery and related judgements
. Production operations require people who love action and have a knack for keeping the operations smooth and running in the face of several challenges
. Ability to handle tough work conditions

How do i get there?
Take up physics, chemistry and mathematics at the plus-two level. After Class XII you will have to take all-India entrance tests like IIT-JEE, AIEEE etc. Admission to various institutes will be on the basis of your score in these entrance exams. Then you will have to do your B Tech. It is a four-year course. You may then go for M Tech and later PhD

Institutes & urls
. Indian School of Mines- Dhanbad
. Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU)-Gandhinagar
. MIT-Pune
. University of Petroleum and Energy Studies –Dehradun
. Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology-Rae Bareli

Pros & cons

The job is challenging


Exposure to best-in-class technology


High salary


Wide spectrum of activities


You will have to work in remote locations


Long working hours offshore


Physically strenuous


Somewhat risky

There’s shortage of manpower

Petroleum engineers will be in demand, says an academician

What is the scope of work of a petroleum engineer in India as well as abroad?
Petroleum Engineers normally work in exploration and production (upstream) and its service sectors throughout the world.

Which are the leading places/states in India where oil and gas exploration is being done? What role does a petroleum engineer play in exploration?
Oil exploration is happening mostly in Gujarat, Assam, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. It helps economic growth of the state both directly and indirectly through ancillary industries. A petroleum engineer is directly involved in these projects right from design, development to production of oil and gas.

Are there adequate numbers of skilled personnel in the field in the country today?
We produce a reasonable number of petroleum engineers in the country, but a shortage of skilled personnel definitely exists. Some of the reasons may be shortage of faculty in institutes, requirement of expensive infrastructure in institutes, lack of sponsored projects in institutes from industries, etc.

What are the challenges facing the profession? What have been the landmark developments in the field of petroleum engineering that have changed the world?
The main challenge facing the profession is the fast changing technology in exploration and production (E & P). The other important challenge is high risk in investment under high degree of uncertainty in oil and gas reservoirs. The landmark development is discovery of new reservoirs and technology.

Please give us an insight into the current researches/work being carried on in the field and how it might help the industry.

There is mostly research work going on in modelling and simulation for reservoir study, development of intelligent drilling technology, offshore and deep-water technology, coal bed methane technology, etc.

Who are the leading employers in India and globally?
To name a few — ONGC, Reliance Industries Ltd., Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation, Oil India Ltd, HOEC, etc in E&P sector and Schlumberger, Halliburton, British Gas, Cairn Energy, BJ Services, etc in service sector.

Professor P K Banik, director, School of Petroleum Technology, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar Interviewed by Pranab Ghosh

First Published: Apr 13, 2010 10:06 IST