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Last Updated: September 13, 2017
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Career Development
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By Moji Karimi


Here are some of the repeated discussion topics that seem to be common and specific to O&G.

Before I get to that, and as one of the general discussion points let me clarify the startup concept (my definition of it anyways) in contrast with a small business or consulting.

“Startup is a company based on a somewhat risky (unproven) idea that solves a pain-point in an innovative way. A startup should definitely have intellectual property and could be acquired in a relatively short amount of time”. Therefore, small “me too” businesses or consulting firms don’t fit here. Nothing wrong with those but they follow a different growth path and have unlike business models and priorities. By the short time I mean 7-10 years (for Tech startups that more like 3-5 years, O&G product/market fit takes longer for several reasons). Also have to mention, by O&G startup I’m not referring to a new E&P company (though that is also a very interesting concept. See UpCurve Energy as a good example).

For O&G folks who have lost their job it’s very tempting to immediately think about applying the same skill-set they have learnt to:

- provide somewhat the same service as bigger companies with a twist. Actually down market is the worst time to start a “me too” business. Same services take you to price war with bigger companies and you are certain to lose. Where you could shine is if you compete on “value” and have a clear differentiation.

- become a consultant. Even though this is a nice and quick way to make up for some of the lost income, it’s not a sustainable source and you are going against several other experts who are thinking about doing the same. You are also banking on a shrinking market.

Here are some ideas to consider before starting your business:

  • Read your non-compete agreement with your ex-employer line by line. It’s very common for entrepreneurs to have worked at a big corporation and while there learned the skill-set that’s enabling them to develop original ideas. This is a risky area and you should definitely consult with a lawyer.
  • Before spending any time or money on building or coding anything, find out if this is a problem worth solving. As engineers, we love to jump into building things but, in case of building a company, you have to control the urge and spend proper time researching the market and speaking with future clients to reality-check and refine your idea. That doesn’t mean fully disclosing how the idea works, but what problem you are targeting to solve, and how you compare to the incumbent methods.
  • Think about the company not about the product. People think products define companies, it’s actually not true, business models create companies and your solution/product is only a part of it. A quick way to build one is the business model canvas with the integral part of it being the value proposition. Here is a quick Udemy course on Lean Canvas which I think is better refined than the business model canvas.
  • Think about the milestones for your company, for O&G these could be 1- research 2- business model 3- prototype 4- field trial 5- commercialization. Or you can follow a more general flow-work like the lean startup model. In either case think about what resources you need for each phase.
  • For each petroleum engineer out there with a novel idea there is also a business development manager who is looking for an idea to execute upon. So no matter what side you are on, start networking with the mindset beyond looking for a job, but to find a business partner with skill-set complementary to yours.

Initially the purpose of this post was for those who have lost their job recently; but some aspects also apply to the ones currently employed and want to have a plan B. Working full time and trying to develop an idea at nights and weekends has its own very interesting challenges.

At the end, starting a new venture isn’t easy, if it was everyone would be doing it. However, there is nothing more satisfying that controlling your own destiny.


*This article was first published on 4 February 2016 by Moji Karimi and is reprinted here with full permission.

**About the Writer:

Moji Karimi is an oil and gas entrepreneur who has helped ideate, develop, and commercialize technology for big companies such as Weatherford and has now begun focusing on startups. Currently, Karimi is the business development manager at Biota Technology, a startup that is commercializing DNA Sequencing in the oil and gas industry. He is also a cofounder of SPE Gulf Coast Section Entrepreneurship Cell which is an initiative to educate and connect entrepreneurs, decision makers, and investors. Karimi holds BS and MS degrees in drilling and petroleum engineering, respectively.

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The New Wave of Renewable Fuels

In 2021, the makeup of renewables has also changed drastically. Technologies such as solar and wind are no longer novel, as is the idea of blending vegetable oils into road fuels or switching to electric-based vehicles. Such ideas are now entrenched and are not considered enough to shift the world into a carbon neutral future. The new wave of renewables focus on converting by-products from other carbon-intensive industries into usable fuels. Research into such technologies has been pioneered in universities and start-ups over the past two decades, but the impetus of global climate goals is now seeing an incredible amount of money being poured into them as oil & gas giants seek to rebalance their portfolios away from pure hydrocarbons with a goal of balancing their total carbon emissions in aggregate to zero.

Traditionally, the European players have led this drive. Which is unsurprising, since the EU has been the most driven in this acceleration. But even the US giants are following suit. In the past year, Chevron has poured an incredible amount of cash and effort in pioneering renewables. Its motives might be less than altruistic, shareholders across America have been particularly vocal about driving this transformation but the net results will be positive for all.

Chevron’s recent efforts have focused on biomethane, through a partnership with global waste solutions company Brightmark. The joint venture Brightmark RNG Holdings operations focused on convert cow manure to renewable natural gas, which are then converted into fuel for long-haul trucks, the very kind that criss-cross the vast highways of the US delivering goods from coast to coast. Launched in October 2020, the joint venture was extended and expanded in August, now encompassing 38 biomethane plants in seven US states, with first production set to begin later in 2021. The targeting of livestock waste is particularly crucial: methane emissions from farms is the second-largest contributor to climate change emissions globally. The technology to capture methane from manure (as well as landfills and other waste sites) has existed for years, but has only recently been commercialised to convert methane emissions from decomposition to useful products.

This is an arena that another supermajor – BP – has also made a recent significant investment in. BP signed a 15-year agreement with CleanBay Renewables to purchase the latter’s renewable natural gas (RNG) to be mixed and sold into select US state markets. Beginning with California, which has one of the strictest fuel standards in the US and provides incentives under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce carbon intensity – CleanBay’s RNG is derived not from cows, but from poultry. Chicken manure, feathers and bedding are all converted into RNG using anaerobic digesters, providing a carbon intensity that is said to be 95% less than the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of pure fossil fuels and non-conversion of poultry waste matter. BP also has an agreement with Gevo Inc in Iowa to purchase RNG produced from cow manure, also for sale in California.

But road fuels aren’t the only avenue for large-scale embracing of renewables. It could take to the air, literally. After all, the global commercial airline fleet currently stands at over 25,000 aircraft and is expected to grow to over 35,000 by 2030. All those planes will burn a lot of fuel. With the airline industry embracing the idea of AAF (or Alternative Aviation Fuels), developments into renewable jet fuels have been striking, from traditional bio-sources such as palm or soybean oil to advanced organic matter conversion from agricultural waste and manure. Chevron, again, has signed a landmark deal to advance the commercialisation. Together with Delta Airlines and Google, Chevron will be producing a batch of sustainable aviation fuel at its El Segundo refinery in California. Delta will then use the fuel, with Google providing a cloud-based framework to analyse the data. That data will then allow for a transparent analysis into carbon emissions from the use of sustainable aviation fuel, as benchmark for others to follow. The analysis should be able to confirm whether or not the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s estimates that renewable jet fuel can reduce lifecycle carbon intensity by up to 80%. And to strengthen the measure, Delta has pledged to replace 10% of its jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.

In a parallel, but no less pioneering lane, France’s TotalEnergies has announced that it is developing a 100% renewable fuel for use in motorsports, using bioethanol sourced from residues produced by the French wine industry (among others) at its Feyzin refinery in Lyon. This, it believes, will reduce the racing sports’ carbon emissions by an immediate 65%. The fuel, named Excellium Racing 100, is set to debut at the next season of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans 2022 race.

But Chevron isn’t done yet. It is also falling back on the long-standing use of vegetable oils blended into US transport fuels by signing a wide-ranging agreement with commodity giant Bunge. Called a ‘farmer-to-fuelling station’ solution, Bunge’s soybean processing facilities in Louisiana and Illinois will be the source of meal and oil that will be converted by Chevron into diesel and jet fuel. With an investment of US$600 million, Chevron will assist Bunge in doubling the combined capacity of both plants by 2024, in line with anticipated increases in the US biofuels blending mandates.

Even ExxonMobil, one of the most reticent of the supermajors to embrace renewables wholesale, is getting in on the action. Its Imperial Oil subsidiary in Canada has announced plans to commercialise renewable diesel at a new facility near Edmonton using plant-based feedstock and hydrogen. The venture does only target the Canadian market – where political will to drive renewable adoption is far higher than in the US – but similar moves have already been adopted by other refiners for the US market, including major investments by Phillips 66 and Valero.

Ultimately, these recent moves are driven out of necessity. This is the way the industry is moving and anyone stubborn enough to ignore it will be left behind. Combined with other major investments driven by European supermajors over the past five years, this wider and wider adoption of renewable can only be better for the planet and, eventually, individual bottom lines. The renewables ball is rolling fast and is only gaining momentum.

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