Nick Gardiner addresses petroleum engineering graduates

The University of Houston
may 2019


Thank you, graduates, for giving me some of your time. You look like you are happy to be here and are ready to celebrate. I appreciate that and will try hard to keep this brief. And finally, my thanks go out to all of the professors. Without you, people like me wouldn’t be here to attest to the benefits of a career in this industry.

Dr. Mohamed Y. Soliman asked me to give you some “words of wisdom”, but first, I’d like to set the stage by telling you a bit about my career. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a petroleum engineer when I first applied to college. I actually registered as a pre-law student, but took petroleum engineering classes because I had received a petroleum engineering scholarship from Marathon. It was 1980, there was a boom in the oilfield, and LSU’s Petroleum Engineering department was recruiting students.

By my third year in the program and after an internship with Marathon on one of their offshore platforms, I was convinced that I wanted to be in the industry and pursue a career as a petroleum engineer. As luck would have it, when I graduated, the oilfield was in a down cycle.

Out of the 103 students graduating with a Petroleum Engineering degree from LSU in December of 1984, there were only three of us with job offers at graduation.  I started out at what could be considered the very bottom as a bulk cement driver for Halliburton and ended up working for them for over 30 years. 

During that time, I worked my way up from that truck driver position into various management roles. I got to specialize in acidizing and sand control for a time and helped start Halliburton’s Gulf of Mexico offshore fracturing and horizontal gravel packing businesses.  I worked in sales for quite some time and learned a lot about how to meet and exceed expectations.

When I moved into management, I started in operations management in Midland and ended up in operations management in Dubai.

I worked in a business strategy role towards the end of my career with Halliburton where I prioritized the technologies that our stimulation R&D department pursued.

Now that I am back with Marathon after 35 years, I focus on petro-technical innovation.

A petroleum engineer’s job is unlike most other engineering jobs. Why is that? It's because you only rarely get to see what you are working on.

You will have to rely a lot on indirect measurement to gain knowledge. You will have to make substantial assumptions. You will have to make decisions without a complete understanding of all factors. You will eventually be responsible for multi-million-dollar assets or contributing to multi-million dollar decisions.

"A petroleum engineer’s job is unlike most other engineering jobs... because you only rarely get to see what you are working on."

Nick Gardiner, technical innovation manager, Marathon Oil 

There are many sub-disciplines. You can be a production engineer, a reservoir engineer, or a facilities engineer. You can work in completions or drilling. You can work for a service company and become very specialized on fracturing, sand control, acidizing, project management, or artificial lift.

You will most certainly have the opportunity to manage other people if you want pursue a management track; or, you can stay technical and become a subject matter expert and technical advisor, ensuring that your company stays ahead of its peers or giving new-hires the keys to success in our industry.

There is one major difference between college and the “real world” that I would like to emphasize, mainly because I see it creep up as an issue in my current role at Marathon Oil. In academia, technology is of utmost importance. The ability to perform research, and report on that research, is the lifeblood for a college department because it helps cement the worthiness of the program.

"If a technology that you're working on does not add value, then the fact that you are working on it is destroying value."

Nick Gardiner, technical innovation manager, Marathon Oil 

Over the span of my career, I have seen tremendous improvements in many areas, all the benefits of the application of technology, a lot of it started by the research efforts found in universities. In the US, wells that used to take a month to drill and case can now take less than a week. The move from rotary tables to top drives, improvements in mud systems, mud motors and rotary steerables as well as a better understanding of drilling dynamics have all contributed to the improvement. Reservoir models that were calculated by hand or mainframe computer were made increasingly complex to the point that it could take weeks to run the simulation; these runs are now achievable in minutes using GPU technology.

Technology continues to deliver the opportunity for improvement, but technology for technology’s sake doesn’t add value. If you end up working in a technology development environment, always question if and how that technology might add value to your future customers’ business.

If a technology that you are working on does not add value, then the fact that you are working on it is destroying value.

There's no doubt that you've learned a significant amount in your time here.  This will give you a solid basis for your career.  However, there were several things that I didn't know before graduation, but instead, that I learned over the course of time:

I didn't realize that the industry is so cyclical. The good times are really good, but they don’t last forever. The bad times can be really challenging—they too don’t last forever. Take advantage of the up cycles by preparing yourselves for the down cycles. Put in the effort to make yourself indispensable to your employer even through the rough patches in the oil patch.

I  found out that the actual work is harder and more time-consuming than any subject I took in college. There will be challenging times. However, if you find that your job is easy and you're able to coast through the day, I strongly urge you to ask for additional responsibilities or a position change. Ultimately, the exertion of maximum effort will make the work more satisfying.

I would have never guessed that I was going to get to travel the world. About 10 years after graduating, I got involved in the overseas oilfield and spent the next 20 years in and out of various countries all across the globe. In all, I’ve traveled to over 30 countries to conduct oilfield-related business and I’ve met some really great people in those travels. The cultural differences can be quite staggering. If and when your job takes to you a new country, take the time to learn about the culture.

And, I found out quickly that the industry is a lot smaller than anyone would guess. As evidence of this, I attend conventions to learn about new developments and almost always spend time catching up with people who I’ve met over the years. Do your best to leave people with a good impression of you; you never know who your next boss might be.

Finally, as you go out into the world and settle into your respective careers, you represent the University of Houston and its Petroleum Engineering department. The university’s reputation will contribute to your reputation and vice versa. I urge you to help build that reputation through your diligence, hard work, and ethical approach. This will reflect well on you and your career.

Thank you and please accept my sincere congratulations on this milestone.

Four oil-rich U.S. resource plays differentiate Marathon Oil


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