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TWI Support for the Oil and Gas Industry in a Low-Price Environment

The effects of the current low oil price continue to be felt across the oil and gas industry, particularly within the service sector. While oil companies and duty holders attempt to cut costs, partly through reductions in staff numbers, while maintaining dividends to shareholders, the service sector bears the brunt of the economies through reduced rates and substantial redundancies.

Although the industry has suffered price crises before, none has been as relatively deep and long as this one. The aftermath of the 1998 crash, coupled with the media attention on the industry’s environmental performance provoked by the disposal of Brent Spar, caused a decade’s worth of young engineers to leave or avoid the industry – engineers who would otherwise by now have clocked up 20 to 30 years’ experience in the sector, and be well placed to provide the core of our technical capability. It will take a few years to see if the industry suffers the same consequences again and loses another generation of engineers.

TWI is acutely aware that the current price is hurting our Members, which is in turn leading to lower investment in research projects. Our joint industry projects (JIPs) programme, comprising long-term research and development projects run in partnership with consortia of companies, has reduced considerably. It is a period of consolidation, with expenditure deemed inessential reined in and potential cost reduction opportunities being explored across the board.

But it is at lean times such as this that TWI’s offering is at its most valuable. As our Industrial Members lose staff – and consequently expertise – TWI is able to provide an expert resource to offset some of this loss. The advantage of being a specialist research and technology organisation is that we combine a great depth of knowledge with a tremendous breadth of expertise across materials, joining and engineering assessment technologies. Only the biggest industrial companies can claim to have expertise across even a fraction of the disciplines we cover, and as companies shed their resources TWI can fill the gap.

It is always a challenge for membership-based organisations to keep in touch with their members, but one way we try is with members’ days and panel meetings. We are already planning members’ days in Aberdeen, Houston and Cambridge, and these will cover floating structures and mooring chains, ageing management and life extension, and material performance in aggressive environments. On that last subject we are currently testing performance in our Cambridge laboratories in environments ranging from different types of sea water, toluene hydrocarbon and ammonia for polymers through to H2S and hydrofluoric acid, at a range of temperatures and pressures. The purpose of the members’ days and panel sessions is both to update Members of the technologies we are developing and to receive feedback and suggestions for core research and JIPs to be undertaken by TWI.

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