Drilling executive calls for a new course of action to achieve success

Nabors executive Subodh Saxena challenged leaders to think more like Generation Z at OTC2023. Photo courtesy of nabors.com

Gone are the days of people, process, and technology. Welcome to purpose, partnering, and governance.

In the early morning hours of the third day of OTC2023, Subodh Saxena, senior vice president at Nabors Industries, succinctly summarized both the challenges and opportunities faced by an industry in the middle of an identity crisis.

The upstream energy industry focused the better part of the last two decades on physical safety, division and clarity of responsibilities, and technology adoption and adaptation. Rightfully so, given the Macondo incident of 2010, the Enron collapse in 2002, and the general wildfire growth of technology in the workplace over the same time frame.

But as leadership that came of age during these tragedies takes the reigns, a new set of challenges arises. Consistent lack of positive financial returns, a shrinking talent pool, and of course, the climate crisis, combine to form the perfect storm for an industry just trying to manage the rising and falling tides of unstable commodity pricing.

To avoid completely capsizing during this squall in which the industry finds itself, Saxena describes three opportunities for improvement.

  • Attracting new talent by creating psychological safety in our workplaces and improving the perception of technology adaptation in the industry
  • Embracing a collaborative approach to building new solutions to limit the amount of siloed rework that currently stymies rapid advancement
  • Improved financial discipline with greater honesty about ROI for the entire supply chain

“We have a mindset in the industry, that we have to build everything ourselves," Saxena laments. "We have to learn to partner because [if] every company invests in new technology to create transition, whether that's hydrogen or any other source of green energy, that return on invested capital is going to become negative. We need to learn to collaborate to ensure that we are all going to be successful.”

The requests made by Saxena represent a growing movement within the incumbent industry to think not of the energy transition as a shift from one energy source to another but as a transition in mindset. Collaboration is the name of the game now, as are mindfulness, responsibility, and above all else, sustainability.

Revisiting purpose, partnering, and governance to identify room for improvement will ultimately determine whether organizations will sink or sail.

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A View From HETI

A View From UH

A Rice University professor studied the Earth's carbon cycle in the Rio Madre de Dios to shed light on current climate conditions. Photo courtesy of Mark Torres/Rice University

Carbon cycles through Earth, its inhabitants, and its atmosphere on a regular basis, but not much research has been done on that process and qualifying it — until now.

In a recent study of a river system extending from the Peruvian Andes to the Amazon floodplains, Rice University’s Mark Torres and collaborators from five institutions proved that that high rates of carbon breakdown persist from mountaintop to floodplain.

“The purpose of this research was to quantify the rate at which Earth naturally releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and find out whether this process varies across different geographic locations,” Torres says in a news release.

Torres published his findings in a study published in PNAS, explaining how they used rhenium — a silvery-gray, heavy transition metal — as a proxy for carbon. The research into the Earth’s natural, pre-anthropogenic carbon cycle stands to benefit humanity by providing valuable insight to current climate challenges.

“This research used a newly-developed technique pioneered by Robert Hilton and Mathieu Dellinger that relies on a trace element — rhenium — that’s incorporated in fossil organic matter,” Torres says. “As plankton die and sink to the bottom of the ocean, that dead carbon becomes chemically reactive in a way that adds rhenium to it.”

The research was done in the Rio Madre de Dios basin and supported by funding from a European Research Council Starting Grant, the European Union COFUND/Durham Junior Research Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation.

“I’m very excited about this tool,” Torres said. “Rice students have deployed this same method in our lab here, so now we can make this kind of measurement and apply it at other sites. In fact, as part of current research funded by the National Science Foundation, we are applying this technique in Southern California to learn how tectonics and climate influence the breakdown of fossil carbon.”

Torres also received a three-year grant from the Department of Energy to study soil for carbon storage earlier this year.

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