Oil and gas offers non-traditional jobs

Drill site manager, well completion specialist, production manager, well site instrumentation engineer and safety, health and environmental technologist.



The list of jobs available in the oilfield is almost endless, and Fletcher Technical Community College and the South Central Industrial Alliance recently teamed up with BP to show local high-school students the oil and gas industry jobs available in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.

“You are at an excellent age to start a program for a job in the oilfield industry,” said Dean Bourgeois, professor of process production technology at South Central Louisiana Technical College. “There are jobs available downstream in the petrochemical and refinery business, midstream with pipeline and transmission work and upstream in exploration and production. We provide hands-on training for these jobs, and these are non-traditional jobs for non-traditional thinkers.”



“With two years of education in process production technology, you can get a job where you only work half the year,” he said. “You can start out making $75,000 a year and work seven on, seven off. I spent 38 years working in the Gulf and retired at 54.”



Bourgeois, Mike Gautreaux, who is an assistant professor of safety technology at Nicholls State University, and Alvin Justelien, Fletcher’s IPT department head, were just a few of the local educators and oil industry workers speaking at the Work It! Louisiana event hosted at BP’s Houma Operations’ Learning Center. Three hundred juniors and seniors from 15 area schools attended the event, and the students were given an overview of production, engineering and safety careers at several industry-led panel sessions. The event was funded by an SCIA Work It! Louisiana career awareness grant.

“BP came to me in 2009 about designing this event, and we had eight high schools at the first one that same year,” said Nicol Blanchard, college and career transition coordinator at Fletcher. “We also hosted the event in 2012 and 2013, and we added and changed speakers for each event. This year we added the remotely operated vehicle presentation.”



“We have had several success stories from hosting this event, and one of the students who came to the 2009 career day is now a BP employee,” she continued. “This is the perfect facility to host this event, and I would like to thank BP for having us.”



Justelien, Bourgeois and Gautreaux briefed students about which degrees they should pursue to land jobs in the oilfield.

“Teamwork is critical in this industry,” Gautreaux said. “You can make $60,000 to $70,000 a year being a drill site manager, well completion specialist, production manager, well site instrumentation engineer or a safety, health and environmental technologist. These are very lucrative careers.”



Nicholls offers both associate and bachelor’s degrees in petroleum safety and engineering technology while Fletcher offers diplomas and certifications for production operators and applied sciences. SLTC offers three exit points for its students – process production helper, a technical diploma for process production technology and an associate of applied sciences degree.



After earning that diploma or certification, it’s on to a career, and guest speaker Tim Bourg, who started out as a production technician and retired as an subsea control room operator, filled in the students on how he spent his days as a remotely operated vehicle operator.

“These ROVS are an essential part of operation in deep-water production,” Bourg said as he showed the students a video of an ROV at work. “These machines weigh about 8,000 pounds, and they are equipped with cameras to see and arms that turn valves and do other work.”



“It’s like using a joy stick for a video game, and most ROV operators are good at gaming,” he continued. “You use a lot of hand-eye coordination, so young people take to this like fish to water. It’s like you are flying the machine.”



Bourg, from Galliano, gained his knowledge of ROV operation while working on BP’s Thuderhorse platform, the largest offshore production platform in the Gulf of Mexico, and, when the platform begin pumping oil from the ocean floor, he worked the ROVS as the well produced 250,000 barrels of oil each day.

“These machines are tethered to the rig, and it takes them a while to get to the ocean floor to do their work,” he said. “When I worked at Thunderhorse, we had two of these, and, once the machines got to the bottom, we used them to activate and evaluate wells, move cable and place pipe. They are our eyes down below. The BP spill video of the well blow out well was filmed by an ROV.”



According to Bourg, the $1 million machines can dive to about 10,000 feet, much farther than the 200 feet humans can dive, and the high tech gadgets give workers a glimpse of other things far outside those 200 feet.

“We finding new marine life and report it to Louisiana State University on almost a weekly basis,” Bourg said. “The water is so clear down there, and we see so many different creatures.”

With his Jacques Cousteau of the Gulf of Mexico days behind him, Bourg now uses his offshore expertise to train BP’s offshore personnel, and that includes training the six or seven man crew required to run each ROV.

“You can get a job as an ROV operator by earning a production technology degree, and we recruit from local colleges to fill these jobs,” Bourg said. “ROV pilot salary starts out at about $20 hour for an entry level position and almost $40 an hour for someone experienced. That’s a decent paying job in the oil field. I can’t tell you exactly what I make, but I make over six figures a year.”

While Bourg’s work kept him about 200 miles from home, fellow BP retiree Mark Cortez traveled the world while working as an engineer.

“I moved 10 times while working in the oilfield, and I’ve lived in places like Egypt, Alaska and England,” Cortez said. “Only about 25 to 30 percent of BP’s oil is produced in the Gulf, and BP has 45 major capital projects around the world. I worked with our international operations to work with foreign governments and international drilling regulations.”

Before retiring, Cortez served as manager of BP’s Gulf of Mexico technicians on the company’s four production platforms – Mad Dog, NiKika, Thunderhorse and Atlantis.

“There are 1,000 rigs in the gulf, and these four production platforms pull more oil than all of the others combined,” he said. “We are pulling oil from elephants, huge reservoirs under the ocean floor. We have 2,000 people employed at these four platforms, and you can’t operate a rig without an engineer.”

Petroleum, chemical and mechanical engineers are required at all phases of life in the oilfield from designing wells and platforms to creating pipelines, and these engineers must take the seafloor terrain, hurricanes, pressure and temperature into account with the complex construction and challenges of drilling at depths of about 5,000 to 10,000 feet.

“Hills, canyons, valleys and trenches wreak havoc on engineers who build underwater pipelines,” Cortez said. “Sure, it looks nice and quiet on top of the water, but it’s very busy under the surface. The challenge today is that pipelines are starting to reach extraordinary lengths, and we need engineers to help build hubs and drill additional wells.”

Cortez said BP is also looking for workers with degrees in naval architecture and corrosive materials engineering.

Thibodaux High School senior Alex Kirkland may just be one of BP’s next petroleum engineers.

“My dad works in the oilfield, and the puzzle pieces just fell together,” Kirkland, 18, said. “I like the hands-on aspect, and I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. I really didn’t know where you needed to start to get good job in the oilfield, but now I do.”

While Kirkland plans to head to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for his degree, fellow student Jude Dufrene hopes to earn a petroleum safety and technology degree at Nicholls.

“It’s been fun, getting to see all the different things,” said Dufrene, a 17-year-old junior. “We learned about all education requirements and how far technology has come with the crane simulator.”

“At BP, the future of youth is important, and we work to provide education opportunities like this,” BP spokesman Craig Savage said.