After a winter panic, seeing the obstacles

The key questions facing the oil and gas industry after a tumultuous 2015 is what happens next and whether the industry learned anything from the recent economic hardships.

By Bob Vavra April 10, 2016

"I can see clearly now, the rain is gone…" Johnny Nash, 1972

As a teenager, I was a big pop music fan, and, as a writer, I tended to gravitate toward good lyrics. As I was contemplating the current state of oil and gas exploration and transportation, the above lyrics popped into my head. Perhaps that’s why they are called "pop songs?"

After a winter of uncertainly that quickly drifted into panic in early January, plunging oil prices stalled new exploration, damaged the stock market, and had some analysts wondering where the bottom might be.

By St. Patrick’s Day, the stock market was back into positive territory, having made up all 2000 points it lost in the January swoon. Oil prices were stabilizing in the $40-barrel range, and things seemed to be leveling off. Whether that price point works for everyone isn’t as important as the market stabilizing and the business of oil drilling finding a "new" normal.

In thinking about these issues, it wasn’t the first line of that Johnny Nash song that struck me, though. It’s the second line that’s worth considering here:

"I can see all obstacles in my way…"

The key question you always need to ask after an episode like the oil and gas industry just endured is not "What happened?" but "What happens next?" Did we really learn anything from the travails of the last six months?

One big lesson, and it’s one we will continue to impart as we continue to evolve Oil & Gas Engineering as a valuable tool for our readers, is that you can only manage the things you can control. The best engineers in the world cannot control geopolitical strife or economic policy. They can control maintenance and productivity. They can manage safety and reliability. They can innovate with new technology and new ways of approaching old problems.

The only way to get better is to know where you are starting. It’s finding your own operational baseline, and using that baseline to improve. The problem with improvement is that it’s not always measurable in tangible ways, and it’s never fast enough. Improvement is a process, not a destination, and taking that trip can be a road every bit as rocky as the road we just traveled in the industry with plenty of obstacles that threaten to obstruct the path.

So what are the obstacles? Here are just a few:

  • Maintenance should be designed to enhance productivity, not put out fires.
  • Operational excellence is measured by the worker as well as the chief financial officer; there should be a sense of shared challenges and shared achievement.
  • Not every victory can be measured with a dollar sign, but understanding where capital can be preserved should be part of everyone’s key performance indicators (KPIs), and a source of pride that isn’t calculated in either original equipment effectiveness (OEE) or profit.
  • Technology isn’t a means to an end. It is a tool that works just like a screwdriver or a diamond-tipped drill. It enables work to be done better, faster and more efficiently.
  • Safety is everything. Profit without safety is no profit at all.

Those are the obstacles we can see clearly now. They are also the bedrock we build every other success upon.

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.

Author Bio: Bob is the Content Manager for Plant Engineering.