The big crew change – but where does the new crew come from?

The big crew change – but where does the new crew come from?

Head of Department of Energy Resources at University of Stavanger paints stark picture on uptake of students in geoscience programmes.

The last talk of the day. Sometimes it can be hard to concentrate when the tenth speaker flicks through the slides. But Prof Alejandro Escalana’s talk did the contrary, it woke up the audience.

Escalana is the head of the department of Energy Resources at the University of Stavanger in Norway. In a country where there is little doubt on public support for continued exploration, it is fair to say that the number of graduates in petroleum geoscience courses is now of such a level that the question could be asked where the future workforce comes from. If indeed exploration is going to continue for a while.

In a plot that showed the oil price over the past decennia versus the number of petroleum geoscience students at the universities of Bergen, Trondheim etc., a clear correlation could be seen. Until a few years back, when the climate debate started to gain in prominence. Since then, even though oil prices are stabilising at healthy figures, the intake of students has not picked up.

There used to be about 60 students starting their course at some places, now it’s more likely to be between 10 and 20. In addition, 80% of those students enrolling on a petroleum degree is foreign, which again shows the dramatic drop in interest from within the Norwegian community.

Prof Alejandro Escalana won the Best Presentation Award for his talk at the Exploration Revived Conference held in Stavanger this week.

No link to petroleum

On top of these dwindling numbers comes increasing pressure from within the universities themselves to remove any link to petroleum from the degrees offered. In a sarcastic way, he gave an account of the struggle faced by decision makers to come up with new names for geoscience courses where petroleum geoscience can still be taught whilst at the same time not saying it on the tin.

It is a sign of the times. Oil companies have become energy companies, the new National Data Repository in the UK – the equivalent of Diskos – was recently launched as the key driver to enable CCS, hydrogen and wind projects whilst its value equally lies in finding the small remaining oil and gas prospects.

So, oil and to a lesser extent gas are increasingly disappearing from the public vocabulary. When the effects of this are shown by someone who experiences this on a daily basis, with the potential disruption this has on the functioning of a vital sector of the economy, the question should be asked if this is the right way forward.