Sector News

A career in downstream – What do people in downstream businesses do?

December 15, 2015

The downstream oil and gas industry is leading the way in providing exciting career opportunities for talented engineers around the globe.

Our industry is critical to the oil and gas value chain. We refine, manufacture and market fuels, lubricants and petrochemicals for both industrial and retail consumers. This is our fundamental purpose.

How the industry is developing
The downstream industry has certainly developed since I joined in the mid-1980’s. Nowadays, careers in this segment of the industry offer exciting opportunities to produce leading products via revolutionary technology and processes. The downstream industry is investing across the world, pushing the use of technology to produce fuels and lubricants more efficiently, despite the ever more difficult feedstocks now being produced from today’s oil and gas fields.

In the US Midwest, we at BP have redeveloped the Whiting Refinery, to supply fuel to the North American markets. The multi-billion dollar upgrade of the facility has just been completed to ensure that it can process growing supplies of North American crude oil, including heavy oil from Canada. At Whiting we will now process up to 413,000 barrels per day and produce enough fuel every day to run 430,000 cars, 22,000 commercial trucks, 2,000 commercial aircraft, 10,000 tractors and fill 350,000 propane tanks. This upgrade work has required industry leading talent and ingenuity of process, to ensure that the refinery can work with the more challenging feedstock, while having a minimal environmental impact.

Pushing the boundaries
Many misconceptions exist about what a job in downstream actually entails. I believe that we offer a wide range of roles, in a variety of exciting operating environments. It is not all oily overalls and heavy machinery; technical and business staff in downstream have the opportunity to work with industry-leading refining technology and experts within the field.

At Whiting, we have recently engineered a way to run the refinery’s gasoline-making units even during the planned maintenance of other parts of the refinery. This first for BP has ensured that production can be maintained during downtime and is a great example of our engineers’ collaborative working – taking an initial idea all the way through to its implementation. It required rigorous analysis and thinking to ensure that consequences were fully thought through and all possible outcomes were taken into consideration.

At our Hull petrochemicals plant in the UK, we are leading the way in the research of new product streams that will help to form the fuels of the future. We also manufacture acetic acid and acetic anhydride, which are used in textile and plastic manufacturing, as well as in the pharmaceutical industry and to create bleaches. We produce half a million tonnes of acetic acid per year, making the facility the only large scale producer in Europe. Hull is also home to one of BP’s main global research and technology centres at which we have created a range of technologies for BP’s global businesses.

To meet these global challenges, we increasingly rely on a diverse workforce of men and women from around the globe. The varying perspectives of the people in our downstream business allow us to examine issues from multiple angles and develop ideas and technologies that ensure products are available to deliver energy to the world in safe and environmentally sound ways.

The downstream lifestyle
I often hear from our downstream engineers that they enjoy working in the office environment, while still appreciating the opportunity to work with the operational teams in the facilities. The teams are made up of highly skilled engineers and technicians, responsible for designing and developing plant in a complex environment. Being located at a refinery or petrochemicals plant allows employees to identify issues, implement changes and examine ideas and outcomes in a real world environment. These teams take things from the hypothetical to reality and get to see the tangible outcomes of their efforts.

While some roles may offer the potential for significant international travel, the majority of roles are location specific, with facilities often located near major consumption areas close to major cities, which in turn provides a stable work/ life balance.

What can recruits expect?
Downstream facilities are complex manufacturing sites with numerous functions all operating in unison. Therefore roles in downstream are often suited to inquisitive candidates, who tend to push the boundaries in their thinking and approach. Collaborative team players suit this environment and can expect to find an inclusive culture that encourages innovative thinking.

Downstream engineers are responsible for delivering often large-scale engineering projects and ensuring the safe operation of the company’s plants. BP, in turn, provides compelling packages and extensive learning opportunities in the classroom and on the job. Through these offerings and the diversity of roles on offer, recruits can expect significant career development opportunities.

I believe the sector to be extremely flexible and adaptable to personal priorities and needs. At BP I have found that our employees’ priorities change as they move through their careers. The scale of the industry’s major downstream sites allow for progression and development within a single site or location, while the reach of the sector means that the global opportunities are there as and when the time is right.

In summary, recruits can expect an industry with numerous career options and the flexibility to meet their short and long term goals. This is an industry sector that challenges you and the way you think, that is inclusive and that delivers vital products to keep the world’s light on, homes warm, businesses running and vehicles moving.

By Cheryl McKinney – EOR Strategy and Commercial Business Leader, BP

Source: PennEnergy

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