Thursday, December 31, 2015

Two more ongoing disasters in the Gulf of Mexico

The BP trials seem to be nearing an end, but there's still more going on in the Gulf.  Low oil prices have cut back on activity, but there's still a good amount going on.  Many companies are keeping a robust exploration and production program in place because the Gulf of Mexico is a very stable region, with relatively large reserves still out there, with a major upside if oil prices rebound.  In the US leases, the royalty is a flat percentage (~18%) no matter what the oil prices are.  Overseas, if oil prices rise, other countries take a much higher royalty when prices spike (upwards of 90+%).  In the US, this is a big draw for oil companies and the US government might not be maximizing revenues, but does have the benefit of shifting most of the risk onto the oil companies (see Nigeria and Saudi Arabia's budget mess).  

Two items of interest I'll highlight right now.

First, there's ATP's Gomez Disaster (Mississippi Canyon block 711).  Nobody has been hurt and there's been relatively modest environmental damage, but it's a huge screwup
in Deepwater GoM that's costing investors a lot of money. ATP was an independent operator in the GoM. They took on debt, converted an old drilling rig into an FPU and drill some Deepwater wells. Welp, after spending all the cash, they have zilch to show for it. ATP is in bankruptcy hiding from hundreds of millions in liabilities and they don't even have the cash to make payroll (while blaming everything on the drilling moratorium). ATP's situation has gotten a little bit of press, but not all that much in comparison to how big a collapse it is.  That first Motley Fool article explicitly calls for a criminal investigation of management for robbing investors blind.  Recently, their star asset, Gomez Hub / ATP Innovator Semisubmersible was ignominiously towed back to Ingleside, TX for safety.   ATP, doing things on the cheap, bought an old drilling rig built in Texas in 1976 for $60 million, stripped the drilling equipment off, added production equipment, and moored it in 3,000 feet of water to start production.  Then everything went to hell.  They were gig'd for illegally discharging oily water into the gulf.  Their produced water treating system seemed to be nonfunctional and they just dumped oily produced water into the Gulf (along with copious quantities of dispersant to cover things up) and limped along for a short time before they were caught.  ATP got so desperate they even abandoned the platform completely at one point (anyone want to be an oil platform pirate?).  How can you blow $2 Billion and have basically nothing to show for it? 

A second one to mention: Taylor Energy is going to host a forum on their attempts to staunch the flow of their Mississippi Canyon 20 facility that toppled in Katrina.  January 20th in Baton Rouge, if you want to attend.  If you can't attend, some of the slides have been posted and are pretty neat to flip through.  

Despite low oil prices, there's still plenty of activity in the Gulf!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Thoughts on the end of Graduate School

Is this thing still on?  So, I've been a wee bit busy lately, with work and school and family. 
The good news is that I'm finally done with my Master's. It's been a long, difficult journey, but I'm glad I did it. I've also been blessed with tons of support from my family. 

I got a Master's in a different engineering discipline (Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering), so it's taken much longer to get through, but the extra challenge was worth it. 

When I started in 2011, there were many reasons I wanted to go to graduate school. In no particular order:
* I was disappointed in how things ended at Tulane. Working through your senior year in the Katrina aftermath with your professors getting laid off was no fun.
* More and more, a M.S. is the expected background for a professional engineer, especially if you're going to work on the most challenging project. See also the BS+30 possible pending requirement from ABET ( ).
* In case the oil patch went to hell. All industries today are cyclical (except maybe the undertakers), but the oil patch is far more cyclical than most.  Boom times are really, really good and bust times are really, really bad. Feast or famine. In Fall 2011, oil was right at ~$100/bbl (WTI). Now, it's under $40/bbl. 
* Naval Architecture is just damned interesting and I've always had a fascination with the sea.

There were some semesters that were really tough. I'd be working 2-3 days a week down at a shipyard in Morgan City, the other days working in the CBD, then driving to UNO to take 2 graduate classes. Lots of running around!

There were also some annoyances. Problems getting advising  (4000 vs 6000 level classes). UNO still had some minor damage from Katrina (K+6 years and still no working water fountains at first). The state trying everything possible to screw with the school (axing the incredibly popular Tim Ryan, then being rudderless for years, then hiring Fos, who was OK, but no Ryan, then canning Fos...). Tuition, but especially fees skyrocketing every semester.  My total out of pocket went up >10% per year each year. UNO used to be an absolute bargain, but now it's merely affordable. 

Some of the cool little things:
* Taking classes beside my regulators. I got to work with folks from the USCG and MMS/BSEE. 
* Learning a new discipline and also taking classes in completely new things (I took a geology classfor instance). ABET rigidly dictates undergraduate curricula, but is hands off at the M.S. level, so I had a lot of freedom to pick my own way through. 
* Labs are one of the things that a brick and mortar school still has over online programs. 
* Chevron had a little program where they would kick some money to UNO in order to offer 1 Petroleum Engineering class per semester. UNO has wanted to start a full department, but LSU always said 'Hell No!'. Anyway, most of the course was taught by an old drilling engineer who taught from a wheelchair. The crown block on a rig fell on him when he was younger. When he talked about safety, you listened. I also tend to deal with the 'Christmas Tree' & Up at work, so learning a little about the 'Downhole Stuff' (more colorful term is commonly used) was different. 
* After having to do a Lines Plan by hand, I have much more respect for the older draftsmen & engineers. Not an easy task.
* Probably my single favorite class the whole way through was Ocean & Coastal Engineering. Old professor who's very popular with the students, lots of Army Corps of Engineers manuals, and lots of jumping around. Also lots of lab work looking at modeling wave action in the small scale and Froude scaling to full scale.

Anyway, I loved it. I got out of my comfort zone, I was challenged to think, I'm glad I did it, and now I'm glad I don't have to go to class after work anymore.