Blind Date Provides Long And Satisfying Relationship 6 Jan 2013

PESA News Resources recently met up with John Stanton: Managing Director, Energy, RPS Australia Asia Pacific, who has a 30+ year history in the petroleum exploration industry, to talk about his career.

His experience and knowledge is extensive and there aren't many people in the industry better known and liked. He's loved being part of the industry and it appears his only regret is his golf handicap. What is it? True to the explorer in him: "it's a work in progress."


Going back to the beginning John, what's your background, and what helped you map out your career?

I spent most of my teenage life in Hong Kong. This was the 60s and Hong Kong was a much quieter place than it is today. At the age of 18 I returned to the UK to further my education and get a degree. Initially attending an electrical engineering course, I quickly realised that my heart wasn't in it. I knew I wanted to have a degree qualification so I applied to Lanchester, which was offering a BSc in Applied Physics.

When I graduated I realised that I had spent a very pleasant three years playing rugby, golf, drinking beer and studying but I still had no idea what I was going to do. I remember to this day ordering a pint of bitter with my last 20 pounds and feeling daunted by the prospect of getting a job.

I needed money to live, so I worked in a lemonade factory in London, while I applied for more 'career-orientated' positions. One such job advertised by GSI, a leading seismic company at the time, wanted young graduates to train as "seismic data processors". My interview went well; I outlined my education, my experience and there was a point at which the interviewer linked my overseas experience with my education and offered me a job. I was a trainee electronic instrument engineer on board a seismic vessel in Australia and had to be ready to fly in five days. That was the beginning.


What attracted you into the industry?

Like a lot of people I know, especially in the oil and gas service industry, I fell into the industry rather than seeking it out. It was more of a "blind date" which resulted in a very long and satisfying relationship.


What do you think it takes to succeed in the petroleum sector?

I truly believe that we are all blessed working in the industry that we do. It is an industry that has demanded the highest technical specification from "silicon valley" year on year. It has some of the highest technical achievers in the world. It has operational diversities from frozen tundra, ice, swamp, desert, jungle, shallow water, ultra deep water; all having their own specific challenges.

To succeed in this industry you have to dedicate a lot of time, be proactive, inventive and safety conscious. The petroleum sector is 24/7 so you have to be prepared to respond to changes.

What do you believe separates high-performing companies from their less successful counterparts?

I think that the high performing oil and gas companies can be viewed, simply, in two ways. Ones that have capital and ones that haven't.

In the ones without capital, it is all about people. Companies strapped for cash need good leadership to build an experienced team with all the attributes mentioned previously. Companies with capital can use this to farm-in to proven assets and grow their businesses.

When looking at service companies, technology and the acceptance of technologies play a very important part in their success.


What are the current technology trends you see emerging over the short term?

The main technology trends are about enhancing the seismic image and developing direct hydrocabon indicators.

The seismic image has been continuously improved over the years. This has come from improved acquisition techniques such as: the increased number of streamers for 3D data; Q technology; broadband techniques (Geostreamer, Broadseis, Uniq); and enhanced processing techniques.

I believe the current broadband technology will be the focus over the short term. The technology has demonstrated a step change in enhancement of the seismic image, by eliminating streamer ghosting and delivering a much clearer image.

What is the most significant technological advancement you have experienced in your career?

Having a marine seismic background and been at sea for 15 years, I believe the "multiple streamer" vessel is the most significant development: in every respect, from the vessel design to the streamer control. The resulting volume of data has enabled the industry to produce the final seismic image that is required to explore in all regions of the world.

Without these vessels and their related towing capacity and control systems, we would not be as far ahead in exploration as we are today. There was a time when "Peak Oil" was a news item most weeks. Now with our improved exploration techniques we are discovering oil and gas at a rate to keep the "Peak Oil" debate off the front page.


What technology will provide the next step change — in your opinion?

I think the "Node" technology will be the next step change.

This has a number of advantages over the current acquisition techniques. These include its broadband capability and quiet operating environment – the sea floor. It doesn't have any ghosting, it is HSE friendly through the reduction of streamer handling, and it is multi azimuth. However, it needs a significant reduction in cost before this "technology step change" can happen.


How have the range of services provided by the resources consultancy sector changed and what has driven those changes?

Historically, the main industry requirement was a technical consultancy with HSE operation services. While these are still important and required, more emphasis has been placed on the Health, Safety and Environmental aspects of the consultancy services, including auditing, hazard workshops and Safety Case requirements.

There is a requirement for HSE training and qualifications for all consultants and trained and experienced environmental consultants, including cetacean monitoring.

There's been an increasing call for consultant to manage projects: consultants with local experience that understand the local regulatory requirements. There is also an increasing call for G&G consults to provide "Competent Persons Reports".

What has driven these changes? Operators are looking to reduce risk.


How has RPS managed the change in the range of services required?

RPS has managed the change very well in my opinion. I doubt we could have imagined the extent our depth of services would grow to.

Today, services in the industry have to be offered within a robust HSE management system which RPS has developed. We set out to ensure all the risk associated with our activities under our control are understood and are as low as practicable.

We have ensured we have"in house experts" for remote operations such as seismic surveys, site surveys, MMO services etc. We identify potential risks and give professional advice on upcoming projects. We have established a strong team of HSE and Risk Management consultants in Perth, Brisbane and Kuala Lumpur. The same applies to managing the technical risk of the 'asset', with a strong team of geologists, geophysists and petroleum engineers in Perth, Singapore and Brisbane.

RPS has also built an environmental group in Perth and the Eastern States which can address, EIAs, cultural heritage, native title; and a 'Water' team provides water management advice and services across mining, CSG and unconventionals.


How do you think Australia compares on the global stage in exploration and production?

In general I think we compare well.

I think the terms and condition of our exploration and production permits, coupled with the stability of our government system makes Australia very competitive globally. We do not have a strong local market, which may deter some investors.

Our regulatory process is proving to be a hurdle and needs to be better understood in the near future to avoid it becoming a barrier to investment into Australia. I believe a better understanding of the process is ongoing and Australia will be the better for it in the long term.

Our wages bill and cost of living has become an issue as a result of the resources boom and the high Australian dollar. This is a factor most global companies consider.


What do you think are the major challenges the oil and gas sector has yet to face a) in the short-term and b) long-term?

Public awareness of the industry practices and projects is becoming a major challenge in the short and the long term. Projects are at risk of stalling or being stopped by a misinformed public sector. This is a challenge that requires a different thought process at the board level.


The take-over of Fugro's geoscience division by CGG Veritas was recently announced. Were you surprised and do you feel there is reason for further consolidation in the sector? What impact do you feel the merger will have on the Australian sector?

Yes, I was surprised when the take-over was announced. It took a while to sink in but then when you think about the reasons it starts to make sense. With the continual requirement for research and development in the contracting seismic business, the recent flurry of contractors positioning themselves with a "broadband" product was probably the straw that broke the camel's back. Fugro is not a company that enjoys having a product or service that is not 'state of the art' or close to it. It would not be in their business model to be 3rd or 4th as a service provider.

I do not think it will have much impact on the Australian sector.


What do you hope to achieve for RPS in your role running the Energy division?

To grow the RPS services thoughout the Australia, Asia Pacific region.

Establishing the robust HSE management system as a frame work for all our activities will greatly assist us to achieve this. We have offices in Jakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Perth and Brisbane and have been recruiting local, experienced consultants in each to ensure we can meet the local requirements for most tenders being issued.


What have been your greatest rewards and achievements from pursuing a career in the resources sector?

It's definitely the people I have met and worked with all these years. I have the utmost admiration for the people that work in our industry, and it has been a pleasure to go to work every day.


What has been your biggest challenge during your career and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge is being in my current position, managing director of RPS Energy AAP.
There are many components to the job, including management of employees, associate consultants, client relations and expectations, growth and P& L.

It's very demanding, requiring a game of golf at least once a week to balance the stress!


What do you think the industry can do to make itself more attractive to today's youth?

Showing we offer a stable industry is the key to attracting youth. Historically the industry has been boom and bust, which has had a negative effect on recruitment. Maybe with $100 oil for an extended period of time will have a stabilising effect.


What advice do you have for young professionals embarking on a career in resources?

Once you make the choice to join the industry listen to your peers: there is a wealth of knowledge in the industry which only comes from experience. Ask many questions, and when you feel you have a good idea, express it. There are fewer people in the industry than you think and your ideas are important and may not have been thought of before.

When a chance comes along grab it with both hands.


How do you manage a work/home balance?

That's easy, I don't manage that part of my life, my wife does. I could ask her but I am sure she will say that is a mutual management process that all in the family has to be on-board with. Work hours, time away from home etc, all has to be accepted by the family.


What changes would you make (if any) if you could do it all again?

I can honestly say that I would not change a thing. It has been a very rewarding career thus far and I hope to be going for a few more years yet. 

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