Celebrating the best of UK oil and gas talent

The Oil & Gas UK Awards 2017 recognised individuals and companies that are fighting to push innovation, acceptance and training, ensuring the oil and gas industry remains an exciting and productive place to work. Molly Lempriere caught up with some of the winners to find out how they feel about training, industry trends and diversity.

Main picture: Nexen’s Sam Ash takes the Apprentice of the Year award

Apprentice of the Year: 

Sam Ash, Nexen

Molly Lempriere: How important is it to you to have received the apprentice of the year award? 

Sam Ash: Winning the award meant a lot to me as it was a fantastic feeling to be recognised by the industry for my daily contribution. It was also a reflection of the exceptional way my colleagues have mentored and supported me throughout my time on the Scott platform.

What are the main challenges you’ve found getting started in the oil and gas industry? 

On a personal level, missing important events – birthdays, Christmas, New Year - has been challenging. On a professional level dealing with mechanical problems as they arise on the platform is always a challenging aspect of the job. However, being challenged to apply your knowledge in order to solve problems is both exciting and rewarding and is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my apprenticeship.

How important are apprenticeships for the oil and gas industry?

I feel that apprenticeships are very important for the oil and gas industry. Apprenticeships provide an avenue into the industry for those who are interested in gaining a “nuts and bolts” hands-on knowledge. I am lucky that my apprenticeship through the OPITO OGTAP scheme provides me with two years of on the job experience. This experience is invaluable and in my opinion separates apprenticeships from university. 

Business innovation award (SME): 

Chris Ayres,

VP of operations, OPEX

Would you say predictive measures are an important trend in the oil and gas industry at the moment? 

Chris Ayres: I think there's a real opportunity to deliver value in the oil and gas industry through the application of digitalisation and predictive technologies. This is a just a window into the world of that opportunity showing the value that can be delivered. 

How important is it for the oil and gas industry to keep pushing for more innovation? 

Innovation is critical in any industry, but I think particularly in the oil and gas industry with the kind of economic circumstances currently it's really important to try and find new ways to deliver value, to increase returns to shareholders, and to maintain a sustainable industry, certainly here in the UK as well as globally. 

What's next for OPEX?

We've got a number of projects that we're working on, we're obviously looking to expand our portfolio of clients for the X-PAS service, but we're also looking at how predictive technologies combined with expertise in digital engineering can be rolled out in other areas. We're working with industry partners in for example the OGTC up here in Aberdeen, so that we can deliver benefits. 

Apache North Sea 

Oil and Gas Authority MER UK 2017: 

How important is it to have your work with economic recovery recognised?

Apache: Apache strives every day to maximise economic recovery from our assets and it was gratifying to be recognised by our peers and the regulator for delivering the Callater project in record time under budget in a truly collaborative manner.

What is your outlook for UKCS?

Apache is actively investing in the UKCS and has not strayed from our strategy of delivering top-tier returns by maximising economic recovery through a balanced approach to our operations focused on continuous improvement in all facets of our business.

What do you think is the most important trend in the oil and gas industry at the moment?

The supply and demand trend of oil and natural gas drives this industry. There are hints of a recovery but it is a very delicate balance of supply and demand.

Workforce Engagement Award: 

 John Wiseman,

managing director,

Fairfield Energy

How did Fairfield go about engaging its workforce? 

John Wiseman: We were at a unique crossroads in 2015. There were new challenges with decommissioning and we wanted to engage employees in the new business model. We launched a new programme, the Workforce Engagement Initiative, to generate excitement about this emerging area of the industry. The programme was created with five objectives: promoting the business model, regaining the trust of the workforce, creating a healthy work/play culture, encouraging people to stay with us, and painting a bright future. We knew that a productive and engaged workforce would be essential for decommissioning and we are proud to be challenging perceptions.

Could you tell us a little about this crossroads?

A combination of industry challenges led to us becoming a decommissioning operator. We were keen to reassure the workforce while carrying out the necessary restructuring. We made a strategic decision to keep as many of our people as possible in order preserve our vital local knowledge. We are not complacent about future challenges, and we’ll work hard to take our workforce with us on the journey towards Dunlin’s final chapter.

Business Innovation Award: 

Duncan Manning,

Asset manager for Brent decommissioning, Shell 

How important is it for you to have the success of the Brent decommissioning recognised? 

Duncan Manning: It's humbling to be recognised by your industry peers, it's great for the team to have to have the recognition. Certainly when I joined the team four years ago, decommissioning wasn't the end of the industry that people naturally gravitated towards, people tend to want to join oil and gas companies in exploration and production rather than decommissioning. So to have this recognition that actually the final phases of a platform require just as much innovation and engineering prowess as the early days is great. 

What sort of innovation stood out for you in particular throughout the Brent decommissioning? 

One thing that grabs most people's imagination is the single lift of the Brent Delta topside. It's the heaviest marine lift ever conducted at 24,500 tons and clearly required many years of planning, preparation and very close integration. In the background to that lift there is a whole raft of different technologies and innovative ideas which we have implemented on Brent Delta and now carry across to Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. The biggest cost savings came from changes to the plug and abandonment campaign, and that's really innovation technology that can be used across the rest of the basin by the other operators as well. 

What would you say the most important trend in the oil and gas industry is at the moment? 

I think the biggest change in the industry has been the reduction of operating costs generating greater efficiency in production, which has extended the life of platforms. That's been happening concurrent with the reduction in decommissioning costs, again helping to extend the life of platforms. Whilst decommissioning is an emerging subsector, and one that's developing a lot interest particularly from the supply chain, I would actually say that the biggest trend in the sector has been the reduction in operating costs. 

Diversity and Inclusiveness Award: 

 Les Newman, director,


How stiff was the competition? 

Les Newman: It was really tough competition which makes us all the more proud to have won the award. Seeing the work that all organisations in our sector are putting into D&I activities within their companies can only be good news for the industry as a whole. 

How has Atkins gone about ensuring that it is as diverse and inclusive as possible? 

We’re realistic that there is still some way to go but we’re making solid steps in the right direction. The strengths-based approach that won us the award is all about creating a more diverse field of applicants based on inclusiveness rather than the traditional competency-based approach to recruitment.  We have been running workshops with many of our teams, focussing on harnessing the diversity of strengths within the team to support inclusion and improved performance. Mentoring, sponsorship, challenging unconscious bias and maintaining visibility of diversity issues all play a part in our approach to make improvements. Our people are passionate about making a difference and we are really proud of so many of them who are active parts of industry groups representing women and the LGBT+ community, for example, up and down the country. 

Do you think that the industry in general is becoming more diverse? 

Yes, the industry is becoming more diverse, slowly. There is more than needs to be done, particularly in terms of STEM outreach to improve the diversity of our talent pipeline, visibility of positive role models in the industry, increasing the numbers of “agents of change” in the majority and changing business culture to get the best out of our people.