Shale gas ‘will worsen energy skills gap’

Tuesday 13 August 2013

The growth of shale gas could lead to deeper talent shortages in the UK industry, a new survey has found.

After Aberdeen-based jobs website Oilandgaspeople surveyed thousands of sector workers, it emerged that more than half of the industry does not believe that the government’s current approach to shale gas - and the controversial extraction process known as “fracking” - is at all sustainable.

“Shale gas represents a significant opportunity for the UK to meet its energy security targets, but the government needs to realise that the UK needs equipment, rigs and qualified staff that are in short supply,” says Kevin Forbes, chief executive.

In particular, concerns abound that the demand for new, fully trained staff will not be met with a fresh supply. A total of 44 per cent of oil and gas workers said they fear the problem will become so severe that companies are forced to pay higher wages to attract staff from overseas.

This can only be good news for oil and gas contractors, for whom demand is already at an impressive high. The research also found that the North Sea oil and gas industry has seen average jobs growth of five per cent quarter-on-quarter, while in specialist disciplines wage growth was dramatic. Day rates for drill superintendents rose by 17 per cent, for example, with well supervisors seeing a typical increase of 15 per cent.

In the latest Oil and Gas Global Job Index from Hays, it was found that subsea and mechanical engineering were among the disciplines in the greatest demand within the traditional oil and gas sector, as well as health and safety professionals.

“There is a risk that the push for shale gas could have consequences for the oil and gas industry as a whole, with an increase in demand for staff pushing up wages and reducing the pool of skilled oil and gas contractors still further,” says Mr Forbes.

Nevertheless, he added that the UK and the rest of the world still have time to begin recruiting and training new energy sector workers, especially while there is an abundance of candidates thanks to high unemployment.

However Dave Chaplin, chief executive of ContractorCalculator, has raised concerns of a potential “boom and bust” pattern emerging. In the US, where shale gas development has progressed at a faster rate, gas prices have taken a hit and a number of workers in the UK industry fear that this could lead to problems down the road. In addition, Mr Chaplin is concerned that strained companies will cut corners and even threaten the safety of contractors who lack the experience for some tasks. In this context, contractors who can call upon a wealth of experience to carry out their duties safely and efficiently are likely to have an advantage.

The government has courted controversy in recent months for its vocal support of the contentious shale gas industry. Last month, it revealed plans to introduce tax breaks which would reduce by more than 50 per cent the charges payable on income from shale gas production. But public debate has been stirred by the process of fracking, which campaigners say can contaminate water supplies and even cause earth tremors.

By Victoria McDonnell

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