Borderless Careers

Date: 12/08/2011

Meet Jonathan, Field Engineer

Location: The Hague, Netherlands
Degree: Masters, Chemical Engineering
Institute: Imperial College, London, United Kingdom
Start Date: 2007

Jonathan works for the Well Services division of Schlumberger, with a particular focus on cementing operations. Specially formulated cement is pumped into the space between the rock sides of a well and the steel tubing through which oil or gas flows to the surface. It is critical that the cement fully fills the space and remains intact for the life of the well, otherwise gas and fluids could flow from one rock formation to another, or potentially escape to the surface. Jonathan’s current job title is General Field Engineer, and he manages specialist cementing operations for several clients onshore in the Netherlands. In addition to his Masters degree from Imperial College London, in 2011 he gained a Masters’ in Petroleum Engineering, from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Please describe your career to date with Schlumberger

After the company introductory course in Paris, I began as a trainee field engineer (FE) in Aberdeen, UK, where I started learning about the equipment being used offshore. I spent some time as an assistant on drilling jobs in the US state of Arkansas, where each project would typically last between 24 and 48 hours, and I would sometimes have to sleep in a truck on the site. After a year of training—at schools and on the job— I was assigned to a project in the North Sea. I would typically spend periods of about 3-weeks on an offshore rig, and then a week in the office, where I would evaluate the previous job and prepare technical plans for the next one. These plans would be checked by a specialist design engineer; and other experts would get involved if conditions in the well were particularly demanding, such as high pressures or temperatures.

I moved to the Netherlands in 2009 and am still there today. I now spend most of my time in the office designing and supporting cementing operations in the country, not only for oil and gas exploration and production, but also for the strategic storing of imported gas in depleted reservoirs and man-made salt caverns. Gas storage requires particularly advanced cementing technology, so I am still learning and keeping up-to-date with the latest developments.

Why did you decide to be a Field Engineer?

I was always interested in this industry, and while an undergraduate did an internship with a major oil and gas company. I wanted to travel, and applied to several international exploration and production companies. I also wanted my career to start with hands-on outdoor work rather than spending all my time in an office, and did not mind the idea of long hours, so was attracted by the idea of working for an oilfield services company. I heard about Schlumberger after it attended a careers day at my University. I was particularly impressed with the company’s technological leadership, global presence and diversity, and it was the only service company I contacted. I applied online, and about six-months later was invited to join as a trainee.

What are the best things about your job?

In the first few years, I greatly enjoyed learning about this industry. It was awe-inspiring to see the enormous rigs in the North Sea, the technology they applied, and the conditions they are able to work in. Now that I have a more senior role, I enjoy working in teams to solve a wide variety of complex technical challenges and completing projects to our clients’ satisfaction. While we benefit from a global expert support infrastructure, the team here in the Netherlands is quite small. It is easy to quantify the performance of our local organization and measure my own impact on its achievements. Outside of work, being based in The Hague provides me with plenty of opportunities to pursue some of my leisure and sporting interests, such as rugby and windsurfing. I also enjoy scuba diving and snowboarding.

Jonathan What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

During the first two years, the erratic timing of offshore projects made it hard to plan around my personal life—apart from pre-booked annual vacation. I would typically receive about 24 hours notice to get to an offshore job, but I gradually became better at predicting when I was likely to be needed, and was able to plan around it to an increasing extent.

In 2008 I set myself a challenge by enrolling in a distance learning program with Heriot-Watt University. I did the theory exams in 2009 and then had to complete the coursework requirements. I managed to get all this done during evenings and weekends, and took occasional half-days off to attend exams when required. I successfully completed the course and was awarded a Masters degree in Petroleum Engineering in 2011. My thesis - Novel Analysis System for Quality Control of Cement Slurry Mix Fluid in the Field - was based on my work at Schlumberger.

Today, my biggest challenge is a high and varied workload, which requires me to be very effective at setting and achieving priorities for myself and my team.

What advice would you give to a young person considering becoming a Field Engineer?

From my experience, the work during the first two years will be erratic and you should continually expect the unexpected. You will need a lot of patience, especially while offshore where you often need to keep in an extended state of preparedness to start the job promptly while waiting on weather or other factors. I recommend making plans to use this time effectively.

I think that working for an advanced services company such as Schlumberger offers an excellent grounding in the oilfield industry, providing hands-on work and individual responsibility faster than would be usual with an oil and gas operating company. It also provides exposure to a broader range of projects and more opportunities for worldwide travel. I have already learned a lot and am sure that I will continue to meet many new and interesting challenges.

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