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CEAS Alumnus Discusses Opportunities, Challenges In Energy Industry

October 11, 2016
Bryan Hassler (second from left) poses for a portrait with his family.
Bryan Hassler (second from left) poses for a portrait with his family.

Bryan Hassler is the president and CEO of United Energy Partners in Denver, Colo. He earned bachelor’s and master's degrees in petroleum engineering from the University of Wyoming in 1984, and also earned a master's degree in business administration from another institution. He participated in a question-and-answer session in summer 2016 to discuss current economic conditions in the oil and gas industry and how engineering students can prepare for job prospects down the road.

Q: What would you say to a current petroleum or chemical engineering student about the opportunities in the industry that still exist?

A: “These downturns are always tough. I can remember knocking on more than 100 doors in December 1982 in Denver looking for a job in the energy industry, with a Plan B of going back to school in spring 1983 if I had no success. I saw hints of the storm when my buddies graduating in May had offers pulled down so had made some contingency plans by applying for fellowships and assistantships.

“I think there are always opportunities, even in downturns. You just have to look for them harder and be willing to roll up your sleeves and get a little gritty with respect to considering doing some things that might have been beneath you a few months ago. In graduate school, I worked with the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, modeling solution mining of uranium ore in central Wyoming. I worked on tar sands research. I taught mud labs and graded papers. I considered working for a service company to get a better understanding of hydraulic fracturing jobs and logistics.”

Q: Do you have any advice for engineers in the job market?

A: “Apply for work on drilling and workover rigs. Look at hauling crude or water to understand what it takes to coordinate logistics on a completion program, and understand what those service hands are going through. Look at Ryder Scott or an MHA Petroleum, or consider working for a Platts or IHS in the information services industry, because they provide a lot of tools to not only the oil and gas industry, but also to financial services and hedge funds who are eager to understand what’s going on and how to bet the marketplace.

“Want a job working at a refinery in Newfoundland? I can probably get you there. Consider a year of service work with AmeriCorps, Teach For America or the Peace Corps. It will demonstrate cultural rounding and initiative to your employer when the industry pops back in a couple of years. Consider joining the one of the armed services. I considered joining and was heavily recruited and accepted into the Navy’s nuclear training program, but my new wife wasn’t going to have anything to do with me being shipped out six months at a time. Many companies seek out military veterans for their leadership capabilities and are willing to train them. Consider working for a utility. Complement your skills with a finance degree or master’s of business administration.”

Q: What can a soon-to-be graduate of these programs do to stand out in the pursuit of jobs in the industry?

A: “Poke and prod. Demonstrate a willingness to do anything to get the job. Join networking groups. Reach out to alumni on LinkedIn. Be flexible. Stay mentally sharp. Understand the politics of energy and the speed of change in technology. Volunteer. Mentor.”

Q: Why should a prospective undergraduate (high-school senior) consider majoring in either of these programs?

A: “We’ll always need energy. An engineering degree gives you the critical skills necessary to solve problems and create value. Take a year and get your math and early engineering courses under your belt before declaring, but ask a lot of questions the first 18 months and look at all the disciplines. Given a do-over, I’d probably get a chemical engineering or mechanical engineering degree knowing now what I didn’t know in 1982. But I wouldn’t give my career up for anything, because I’ve seen and done a lot of neat stuff. Take a lot of statistics and computer science. Those skills will complement your engineering degree immensely.”

Q: What have you learned from your time in the oil and gas industry about boom-and-bust cycles? What are ways to ensure economic viability for companies even during ‘down’ times?

A: “Capital discipline is key. Healthy balance sheets are critical to weathering the downturns and feasting on the carnage left behind by busts. Take calculated risks. Don’t be afraid to fail, just learn from those failures. Don’t drink yourself silly on the debt Kool-Aid that bankers are doling out in the good times without hedging your bets. Teamwork across the company from the lowest-level workers to the top of the food chain creates value.”

Q: How is oil and gas positioned in the nation’s energy future for the years to come? What are some reasons for optimism about the industry?

A: “Technology created a renaissance in oil and gas development and will continue to shape the future in the industry. Companies can reach resources with a smaller impact on the environment than ever.  Efficiencies are still being created. New ways of extracting resources from older fields is ever evolving.  Costs are being driven down. The resource is cheap and it is plentiful. Oil, natural gas and their refined products are easily transported. 

“Constantly look over your shoulder for innovation that may tip us into the next downturn after the next upturn. The renewable sector is gaining from an efficiency standpoint too. New storage technologies will make those resources ever more viable in this carbon-centric world.”

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