with Jacques Braile Saliés, President, Society of Petroleum Engineers – Brazil
To begin with, could you introduce yourself to our readers and explain the mandate of the new post you’re taking over?
I have been with Petrobras for 29 years working in different positions: E&P, Research Center and the internationally in the US. Today I am the Well Operations Manager in the international area. I have an Ph.D. in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Tulsa. I’ve been elected to be the President of the SPE Brasil Session
What is the relative importance of SPE Brazil within SPE worldwide?
At SPE Brazil you could say we are a small section with 329 or members. Nevertheless, Brazil is becoming one of the major players in the oil industry with all of the pre-salt discoveries and all of the other companies who are now coming to Brazil. We strongly believe that it is one of the sessions with very good potential to grow. With young people, we are building a new industry here in Brazil and that’s why I believe it has such a strong potential to grow.
The oil industry in the United States, started in 1850, and it was a diverse industry with many different companies. In Brazil, we are starting about a century later with Petrobras and now that other companies are spreading out, people are realizing the importance of SPE; not only for technology but also for networking. This is a way to meet new friends and develop new opportunities in the market. SPE is so strong in the United States because of these factors and it’s why I believe that it will become strong in Brazil as well.
Are things going at a faster pace than they used to?
With the pre-salt announcement, Brazil came into focus for the market. Suddenly, you begin to see new investments being announced by Petrobras and other companies. This requires people – not only money – and people in the oil industry will see how important SPE is for them. It’s important, not only for technical growth but also for networking.
Around the world, finding the key engineers is usually the main challenge when companies are trying to realize the E&P potential. Is this an issue that we see in Brazil as well?
Petrobras in Brazil hire engineers through national contests, who would then go to a Petrobras petroleum engineering school before working in the Company. In the last ten years, after the new regulations, demand for engineers has increased. As a consequence federal, state, and private universities opened schools for petroleum engineers in order to try to cover this gap. Petrobras usually takes care of the people that they need, but the market requires more people. Everybody realized that you can take many years learning on the job, but you can learn much faster if you have a strong background, a degree, and the time to sit down and study.
These days you have petroleum schools in Macaé, in Campinas, in So Paolo, and two or three in Rio de Janeiro as well as in the Northeast. Within those schools we have SPE student sections and SPE helps creating the culture and the professional for tomorrow. Today, you can see that most of the Brazilian SPE members are people around fifty years old. But for tomorrow, you have to start adding those young people to the network. They are the future.
Do you think that it’s hard for you to recruit them?
We have directors on the SPE board looking only for young people. They are very active in bringing in ideas and suggesting programs, which I did not see that ten years ago when I was SPE director. Today, they are coming to SPE and they are trying to mobilize themselves.
SPE tends to be a point of reference in terms of engineering capabilities. What are the main areas of competence that Brazil has can be brought to other SPE offices worldwide?
The Brazilian engineers have a very strong mathematical, physical, and chemical background. Working here, they have the opportunity to work in a deep-water environment. That does not happen everywhere. If you look around, probably 50 to 60 percent of all the deep-water rigs are operating in Brazil. If you look at Brazilian production, you see that the share of production in deep-water held by Petrobras is something that no other company has.
Petrobras engineers are not the only ones that benefit from that; there are also service providers, like Baker Hughes, Halliburton, Schlumberger and many others who do as well. All engineers will learn in this environment. What Brazil’s SPE can bring to SPE internationally is this perspective: the strong focus on deep-water operations—and now with the pre-salt findings—also sub-salt technology.
Having the right people in country plays a role in deciding whether a company will decide to invest there or not. And what are the priorities on your agenda right now in order to keep Brazil competitive globally?
SPE is not a political entity, so our main focus is to disseminate technology. That is our foundation. I believe what can be done here is bring young people together—because that’s the future—and do what we can in terms of improving their abilities. We have to give more information and technical expertise to these people. We don’t look into companies’ plans for the future, that’s not what we do. Our focus is the education and the dissemination of information for our society.
So as producers of technologies, what are the challenges that you think Brazil is going to have to face in the near-future?
The strongest challenge for companies operating in Brazil will be the lack of human resources. How do you bring in the young engineers as fast as possible? How do you get them into the industry and have them produce as expected? This is the biggest challenge in Brazil today, and also in the whole industry.
So with the cleanest energy it will be much easier for Brazil to attract them because of the reputation that the oil industry has with the young people as being a dirty industry. Now it’s becoming cleaner—that’s what people were telling us in the North Sea.
I worked in different parts of the world, and in Brazil, it’s different. People look at the oil industry as a good and long-term job. This is because oil in this country is associated with Petrobras. The company trying to do the best for the country and paying good attention to the environment has created a feeling that spread around the country. When you talk about oil in Brazil, the first thing that comes to someone mind is Petrobras, and they have a very good image with people in Brazil.
You talked about attracting young people to the industry. How do you collaborate with universities and research institutions?
At SPE, we have local student chapters to promote our philosophy and show to the young professional the advantages of belonging to SPE. We promote national contests for the best papers written by a student and we send those students to international contests the United States. Here in Rio de Janeiro, we have luncheons for the community every three months and we try to work with them to see what is interesting to keep them on the hook.
Today the students have the felling that: “I am a young guy and they’re announcing all of these pre-salt findings everywhere… I have a future.” And it’s just starting! They are in the right spot at the right time.
You are someone who travels a lot around the world, and we have been meeting many companies ourselves as well. We keep on finding petroleum engineers at the head of companies as well as new companies coming into the market. Do you see this trend happening in Brazil, with engineers starting their own companies?
You look around and you see many successful companies already established by brasilian engineers . As the business grows you will see more companies.
Do you think that they understand this part of the business when they grow into a company or do you think that people have to wait until they become much more mature in the industry?
Sometimes I say that the young people are much cleverer than my generation of engineers. We were raised in an environment where there were no laptops and as an engineer, I worked on an IBM 1130. Now my HP calculator probably has more power than that. I see my kids—I have three kids, two engineers—and they work on computers, they talk to six different people on MSN Messenger, they’re doing their homework, they have their headphones and they have a cell phone. Clearly, the kids today are faster learners than we were.
Now that the whole world has its eye on deep-water technologies, as evidenced by Pemex in Mexico as well as Petronas in Malaysia they, the hunt is on for talent. Of course, Brazil has already developed their expertise in-house and everyone is looking at the professionals in Brazil. How do you retain the best engineers here?
If you look at the whole world, there are still strong restrictions on people moving from one country to another unless you are very skilled and specialized, in which case people will find a way. Nevertheless, I would say that Brazil is a good place to farm engineers because they need to work in a deep-water environment, so it’s a good place to learn: there’s no question about that. Some will leave, but most of them will stay.
Out of the 329 members here, can you expand a little bit on what they do? Are they all in Petrobras, are some in service providers?
I would say that 80% are in Petrobras, which is natural considering it’s the biggest company. However, this is changing in regard to the average age of the members and their affiliation.
Is there a conflict between having Brazilian engineers trained and working here and wanting Brazilian engineers to be exported?
No, I think this is natural. The Brazilian market has a very strong demand and a need for people. Some people will leave, and some people will come into the country
I know that you teach from time to time, for some graduate students who have already decided to go into the oil and gas industry. If you were to look at a classroom full of young engineers who have yet to decide what path their career should go on, what would you say is attractive about the industry?
I will tell them that they have the opportunity to have an excellent job. It is an exciting job, and they will have the opportunity to know most of the world. Or, if they want to stay here, they can stay here as well. Either way it’s very rewarding, challenging and passionate.