Generations: a changing industry

Posted on 24 March 2010

IADC is celebrating its 70th anniversary by comparing and contrasting the perspectives of industry veterans with the newer professionals who are transitioning into the industry’s hierarchy.

Looking toward the future: Jim Nowotny, Atwood Oceanics

By Maggie Cox, editorial coordinator

Jim Nowotny

Jim Nowotny

You can’t say that Jim Nowotny isn’t experienced. He’s served Atwood Oceanics for over 14 years in countries like Australia, Turkey and Italy. He’s moved from project engineer, straight out of Texas A&M University, through the ranks to his current position as senior manager of contracts in marketing. With experience on and off the rig, Mr Nowotny brings a fresh outlook to the industry’s future.

“I’d always grown up in the oilfield. My father was a land drilling contractor so I was always around the oilfield but never offshore prior to joining Atwood Oceanics. That was what attracted me to Atwood during an interview at A&M. I always felt that it was going to be an interesting career, just growing up with it,” he said.

The pressure is on in the industry to consider new technology like automation of the drilling process. Mr Nowotny emphasizes the importance of an accord between the operator, service company and drilling contractor when implementing automation, or any new technology.

Jim Nowotny (from left) in his role as the Atwood Eagle operations  manager; Jason Johns, lead roustabout; and John Irwin, former Atwood  president/CEO, work on the Atwood Eagle semi.

Jim Nowotny (from left) in his role as the Atwood Eagle operations manager; Jason Johns, lead roustabout; and John Irwin, former Atwood president/CEO, work on the Atwood Eagle semi.

“When you are upgrading an existing drilling unit, you need to work with the client to ensure their ‘buy in,’ and requirements are met prior to the contractor making the commitment of automation, and this can be challenging,” Mr Nowotny said. “If the operator doesn’t require the automation, then the capital expense for the upgrade may need to be reconsidered. It’s currently a competitive market placing drilling units and your return on investment needs to be considered.”

Mr Nowotny said that one of the future issues facing the industry will be making drilling units greener; something that should be on all energy companies’ to-do list. “You have a lot of push for alternative energy, which is important. Right now it’s a small percentage of the energy we use worldwide; however, that’s going to grow. How fast it’s going to grow will depend on several factors – politics, economics and demand,” he said.

With the job market returning from last year’s recession, companies are slowly boosting recruiting again. But with new-hires come the responsibility of training them. The age gap between mentor and mentee provides the industry with a new dilemma, most of which, Mr Nowotny said, “comes down to the individual companies and their training programs.”

“When I started with Atwood, we did not have a formal in-house training program. I worked with several people in different departments (informal mentor programs) day-to-day and asked a lot of questions. Not everyone has what it takes to be a great mentor, as an industry we need to ensure we have mentors in place and properly trained to take the young professionals coming into our industry to pass on the wealth of knowledge we have accumulated over the years. Today, Atwood is doing just that,” Mr Nowotny said.

When it comes down to facing the challenges of the industry, Atwood is looking toward the future. There are nine rigs in the current fleet, and two ultra-deepwater semis are under construction in Singapore, scheduled for delivery in 2011 and 2012. The plan to move into the 10,000-ft deepwater realm will bring new changes for Atwood.

Mr Nowotny reflects on his impression of the industry and the importance of passing down knowledge to a new crew.

“We are in the middle of a ‘great crew change,’ ” he said. “The older generation in the oilfield is retiring. There’s going to be a lot of knowledge lost unless we can develop and mentor the young professionals joining the industry.”

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Reflections of the past: Dillard Hammett, 56 years and counting

Dillard Hammett

Dillard Hammett

To say that Dillard Hammett is experienced would be an understatement. At 79, he has over 20 patents, has created “firsts” in the industry for 56 years and continues stay active. Mr Hammett reflects on his work in the industry and the changes that have occurred since.

“There was a lot of new engineering, good engineering and unknown engineering on that end of it, and part of what I learned at Shell was that if you were a good engineer, you would learn how to solve problems,” Mr Hammett said.

An inventor of sorts, Mr Hammett started working with Shell in summers between semesters at the University of Oklahoma in the 1950s. Recruited as a division manager out of college, he went on to Cook Inlet, Alaska, where he implemented major improvements for rig security.

“(Cook Inlet) was not only a 20-ft tide up and down, but it was a high current as the tides were going in and out. Seven months of the year it’s covered with ice,” Mr Hammett said. “Holding a fixed platform in an environment where you have a battleship coming at you, it’s solid ice, and making sure that the structure is strong enough to hold and can keep people on there safely.”

Feeling like his work was done at Shell, Mr Hammett moved forward in his career, joining SEDCO in 1973, then starting  ENSCO in 1986.

Mr Hammett’s efforts in research and development were not without hardship. Cost and the art of communication was key for any project an engineer had going on, Mr Hammett said.

Dillard Hammett, vice president of SEDCO at the time, visits with children during a tour through China.

Dillard Hammett, vice president of SEDCO at the time, visits with children during a tour through China.

“The biggest challenge in many cases was that you not only had engineers working on it and they knew what they wanted to do, but you also had what I call bookkeepers, and the bookkeepers had a budget. If you didn’t stay within the budget, sometimes that was a hard thing to work on,” he said.

Mr Hammett dealt with a plethora of challenges, taking each one in stride; starting with his first patent.

“As you moved into deeper water, you needed to do something rather than having platforms out there. We were doing floating drilling so we started doing floating production,” Mr Hammett said. “One of the first patents we filed was we took an old floating rig to Brazil and we put in floating operations and had five wells hooked flowing into it. So, in that, we developed a patent that was a floating producing operation.”

But Mr Hammett believes that the industry has become more refined in its methods.

“I think the petroleum industry is much more sophisticated than it was back 20, 30 years ago. I think management is much more sophisticated,” he said. “I think we’re doing things that are much more complicated than what we did before.”

According to Mr Hammett, the factors that will greatly dictate this industry’s future will be political leaders and events.

“If certain people say hey, we can’t use this anymore, it’s too dangerous, I think it begins to work itself out to where the type of way we’re living today will, one, be more expensive, and two, maybe not be nearly as flexible as it is today,” Mr Hammett said. He also said that while he cannot predict the future, our industry is a non-negotiable for society. The more innovations in technology, the further the industry can meet energy demands.

“I think that if we didn’t have oil and gas coming out, and more and more of it from onshore are being depleted, if we didn’t have offshore oil and gas going, I think that the oil prices would be twice as high as they are now, or we’d be dependent on more and more foreign countries for it. And I don’t think nuclear (power) is the answer to it,” he said.

Mr Hammett has achieved many milestones for the industry. However, the excitement of being on the cusp of discovery and innovation remains one of his fondest memories. “If you’ve already proven yourself on something, and you’ve done it on land, and you put the gas lines in or so on, you don’t get as much a buzz out of it as if you go and do something that hasn’t been done before and get it done,” he said.

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