- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2006

The outlook for our domestic petroleum industry has not looked this good since the last oil boom a generation ago. Oil prices have doubled since 2004. Wall Street and investors from around the world have been getting on board for the next big energy deal. The energy sector seems to have learned the hard lessons from the boom and bust days of the 1970s and 1980s and is more financially disciplined than ever. Overall, the future looks very bright indeed.

Behind this sunshine, however, loom some very dark clouds. Our industry faces a silent crisis that will affect our nation’s ability to sustain our economy: the lack of qualified and experienced petroleum engineers.

Petroleum engineers are a necessary part of America’s energy infrastructure, working with geologists and other specialists to analyze and determine drilling methods, as well as monitoring recovery and production operations. I believe the need for petroleum engineers working in the U.S. has never been greater.

Full-time jobs in this field have declined sharply in recent years. When the price of crude oil fell to $8 a barrel in 1999, world markets were gripped by the notion of abundant “cheap” energy. A wave of mergers among “Big Oil” companies made it very convenient for them to layoff thousands of qualified petroleum engineers who had many years of valuable experience.

Though it is an extremely “high-tech” position, the average age of petroleum engineers currently employed in the U.S. is 49. Many are likely to take early retirement or be subject to permanent layoff within a few years.

With both China and India becoming major energy consumers and the demand for crude oil about to overtake supply, those two countries are graduating engineers at an increasingly rapid pace. More than ever, there is an urgent need to produce a new generation of U.S. petroleum engineers to replace the current one.

While the interest among today’s college students in obtaining a degree in petroleum engineering has recently blossomed, along with rising oil prices and increased starting salaries, we need to sustain this trend. Our industry needs to better promote the rewards of this profession.

There are hundreds of mature oil fields right here in the U.S. that contain vast amounts of oil and natural gas — resources not recovered due to past technological limitations. This is where qualified engineers can use their many years of experience to benefit everyone. By using innovative secondary/tertiary recovery methods, billions of extra barrels of crude oil can be brought to market and help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil sources.

America’s industrial might was built on exploiting its energy resources. Our growth has been sustained by advances in exploration and recovery technologies by our own petroleum engineers. If we are to continue to lead the world in the technology age, we must rely on the next generation of engineers to further increase our knowledge and ability to produce our declining resources. We must not allow lack of foresight or education to dictate our place in the world nor allow our success to be held hostage by events halfway around the world.

America, the greatest country in the world, was founded on its entrepreneurial spirit, forward-thinking and the ability to execute. The U.S. oil industry has made it possible for our country to flourish, as well as lead the rest of the world into the 21st century. It is our responsibility to continue this trend by doing everything we can do to produce as much oil as is humanly possible in the U.S.A. for the U.S.A.

JEFFREY JOHNSON

Chairman and chief executive officer of Cano Petroleum (AMEX: CFW), of Fort Worth, Texas, an independent oil producer specializing in enhanced oil recovery.


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