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Editorial comment

As the industry challenges get steeper, the sharing of knowledge and good practice, working in partnership and skills development will become increasingly critical factors in meeting future global energy needs. The sector is more fragmented than ever, whilst the requirement for improved efficiency and continued investment, both in people and technology, remains. These challenges are not new but are becoming more complex and wide ranging.

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Securing a safe, efficient, sustainable and affordable energy supply system depends on applying a mix of technologies and solutions. Over the past year, the UK has seen further development in the exploration of unconventional gas and the opening of the largest pilot carbon capture plant. The drive to develop cleaner energy resources has supported the growth of biofuels, natural gas and the use of electricity in transport. Over the next 10 years, it is likely that new nuclear construction, gas developments and carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be seen, with offshore wind power also playing a larger role. Smart grid developments and further decentralisation of energy systems are also likely.

High level debates and sharing of experience help make sense of such unsettled times. The Energy Institute (EI)’s International Petroleum (IP) Week taking place this month brings together senior industry figures to discuss the outlook for the oil and gas industry and how it is adapting to the changing energy landscape. Entitled ‘New frontiers, new future’, the event captures the main areas of development for the sector, such as the future of refining in Europe; energy investment; the challenges in deepwater exploration offshore and the role of gas in future demand, along with sessions on Africa, Middle East, Russia, the Arctic and CIS.

There is also an emphasis on increased collaboration in the industry to achieve energy supply stability and sustainability, as illustrated by a partnership between the EI and the Global CCS Institute in supporting deployment of CCS through the development of knowledge around the safety case for this technology. Partnerships can be challenging, but the mutual benefits can far outweigh any issues with the resulting shared knowledge and access to resources.

Human resources form an intrinsic part of that equation. These resources will also require much investment and collaboration between industry, academia and the Government to ensure that energy policy and related technological developments can be implemented by numerous and adequately skilled workers. For example, major energy companies have been working with the EI to provide guidance and training on human factors and safety: an issue of increasing relevance in the face of raising technological challenges, especially in the exploration of oil and gas.

EI research has indicated that the energy sector faces a potential skills gap in the coming years. This is due to an ageing workforce approaching retirement (especially in the oil and gas industry), combined with a lack of new entrants with the necessary science and engineering skills to safely maintain and/or adapt the existing infrastructure and develop the new technologies required to generate clean energy and reduce demand.

Training is essential. So is engagement with young people to promote the energy sector as an attractive career path. Energy professionals must encourage them to seek professional recognition and keep their skills valued: particularly salient points at a time of high unemployment. Much needs to be done to ensure that the industry has the resources, both financial and human, to provide solutions to the current challenges. But quality of debate, collaboration, the sharing of expertise and knowledge and the application of good practice and professionalism will be the key ingredients to success.

IP Week is supported by Hydrocarbon Engineering and will be held 20 – 22 February 2012 at Park Plaza Riverbank, London.