What it’s really like transitioning from a career in oil and gas to offshore wind
Jon Ruszka, Business Advisor, Flotation Energy
After more than 35 years’ working in the global upstream oil and gas industry, in 2021, I decided to pursue a change of direction. Renewable energy had captured my attention for some time, to the point I became increasingly curious about career opportunities in the sector.
My background education is in aeronautical engineering and I am fascinated with all things marine. After investigating different forms of renewables, offshore wind seemed like the perfect fit. I enrolled in a university course to give me a footing and was subsequently hired by Flotation Energy, who saw the value in employing someone with transferable vocational and commercials skills. I was placed within a business development role tasked with seeking new opportunities to grow the business.
One element I have come to appreciate during my time at Flotation Energy is the similarity of what an offshore wind developer does compared with an international oil company, easing my transition to a new career.
So, what are some of the many synergies between the two industries?
Both explore for a natural resource and evaluate the economic viability to develop and deliver the end product to consumers. In the case of oil and gas, it’s the extraction of hydrocarbons to convert to petroleum products. For wind developers, it’s exploitation of wind, which is converted to electricity, and sold on via buyers to consumers.
Neither resource can be seen in its natural state. Both must be evaluated via measurements and modelled to estimate the economic viability and value for sale of the end products.
Both businesses must manage uncertainties. Being commodities, the future price of the end product is not stable. Fluctuations can occur in both oil and gas and electricity pricing and these can happen unexpectedly. Additionally, despite significant evaluation during the exploration phase, the precise behaviour of the resource can never be 100% assured – the oil reservoir may not produce as modelled and the wind characteristics can change with time. These uncertainties must be modelled over the entire lifetime of the producing asset (oilfield versus wind farm), aligning to the companies’ appetite for risk. As renewables build capacity and interconnectors link geographic regions, electricity prices are expected to stabilise as they become decoupled from gas prices, reducing one of the variables.
The timeframe for developing assets from discovery to production takes years. In addition to evaluating economic viability to deliver shareholder returns, there are significant regulatory requirements to navigate, supply chain constraints to manage and technological options to select. Development and production plans involve detailed environmental assessments and stakeholder engagement to ensure nature is protected and impacts on others are considered. Detailed engineering is required, consents must be granted and financial approvals must be sought. All this takes time.
The technology employed to explore for, develop and extract hydrocarbons is truly leading edge. Working in extreme marine environments far from shore with high-stakes has produced innovation almost beyond compare – deployed at scale globally. The same is true for offshore wind developments. This includes significant crossover from offshore oil and gas with additional technological solutions developed to address the specific challenges of developing and operating offshore wind farms. From a technology perspective, both industries offer engineers and scientists fascinating careers. The pace of technological change in offshore wind is rapid and exciting – driven by the need to continually improve operational safety, environmental protection, reliability and efficiency.
Oil and gas has stimulated an enormous array of manufacturing, support, service and supply companies focused on specialist areas. This supply chain employs enormous numbers, is responsible for developing incredible technology, delivers opportunity and economic benefits locally and globally. The same is true for offshore wind. The scale of offshore wind is phenomenal. The growth in the sector is staggering and the supply chain is developing rapidly. Again, there are huge crossovers between oil and gas supply chain and that of offshore wind.
This provides existing companies with an opportunity to diversify their offerings and client base from oil and gas focus to include offshore wind. It also stimulates a wide range of new companies to form, addressing the specific needs of offshore wind developers and is of great interest to entrepreneurs. With approvals in place, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) commences. Again, there many similarities. All are major EPC projects with CAPEX running to £ billions, requiring specialist contracting strategies and financing arrangements. The engineering design of both is highly specialised, challenging highly qualified engineers to ensure safe and reliable construction with operational efficiency expected to be maintained for decades in some of the world’s harshest environments, all the time while keeping in budget.
Oil and gas projects typically involve a large bespoke structure to manufacture, install and commission, with a pipeline to transport the product. With offshore wind, construction follows a more serial process that utilises numerous manufacturing and port facilities, with specialist vessels working in synchrony. Project management in both industries is a critical skill set. Upon commissioning, the wind farm immediately starts generating electricity to sell to buyers, but with oil and gas, there’s a requirement for drilling and well completion to get up to full capacity.
So although there are many similarities between the two industries there are some stark differences too:
For example, with oil and gas wells, production declines with time, requiring investment in additional wells and reservoir support to maintain economic production. Ultimately, oil fields reach a point where the asset becomes uneconomic to continue operating. This forces cessation of production and then decommissioning. To maintain market value, oil companies must always search for new reserves to extract, replacing depletion, whereas wind does not deplete, it’s renewable. The assets supporting wind power do age but, at a certain point in the future, it will likely be repowered with the latest technology of that time. Much of the infrastructure will continue to be serviceable far beyond the anticipated lifetime of the wind turbine generators. The long-term value of wind farm developers continues to grow as long as the leases on sites can be extended and consumers still require electricity.
So, while I consciously changed from oil and gas to work in offshore wind, my experience is that it’s every bit as exciting, challenging and rewarding. Both industries are underpinned with a solid purpose and there are areas of overlap. Fundamentally, what we do and the environments we work in are remarkably similar.
I hope that by sharing my experiences of changing industries I might convince more people to consider a future in offshore wind. And, if you’ve any questions about transitioning careers, or starting off in renewables, I’d love to hear from you.