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Solving problem in the oil & gas industry Q&A with BP's Janet Weiss.

Alaska's oil and gas industry is faced with a few challenges--declining revenues on top of declining production--problems that need solved. It is fortunate for the industry that BP Exploration (Alaska), Inc. Regional President Janet Weiss likes to solve problems. She's been involved in the oil and gas industry nearly thirty years, much of that in Alaska, where she began her career and where she returned two years ago to take the helm of BP's Alaska operations. Weiss shares a bit of the past, present, and future.

Alaska Business Monthly: What prompted your interest in the oil and gas industry?

Weiss: I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Oklahoma State University in the mid80s. My plan was to stay in the university atmosphere earning my bachelors, then masters, a PhD, and then become a professor. I had no plans to enter the energy industry. But, I also had limited funds to go to college so I found a long-term internship which gave me a way to earn money. The company was ARCO, and it was developing fields on Alaska's North Slope.

From that point on, I saw the energy industry differently. I love solving problems and I really liked math, chemistry, and physics. I saw tons of great problems to solve in an interesting environment. I was swept by the possibility of moving to Alaska.

Alaska Business Monthly: What have you found most rewarding about your work with BP in Alaska?

Weiss: The people. Alaska is an extraordinary place and I lead a team of dedicated people, from the front line of Prudhoe Bay to the Anchorage office. It's clear that my job as BP Alaska's regional president is to deliver safe and reliable operations. I want our employees on the front line to know how important their role is to making that happen. It's important to me that everyone goes home safely. Our two thousand employees are also 80 percent Alaska hire, with a lot of pride in their communities. Annually, BP and its employees support more than seven hundred community and education groups across Alaska through their volunteerism and philanthropy activities.

Alaska Business Monthly: How do you cultivate young Alaskans for internships and employment with BP?

Weiss: We support the University of Alaska system by providing internships for engineering, business, and geoscience students. We also support the process technology programs at UAA, UAF, and the Kenai Peninsula College. In the past decade we've hired 167 graduates as employees and interns from the process technology programs.

Statewide, BP and our employees support STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education through programs such as: First in Alaska Robotics, the Girl Scouts Women in Engineering and the Sciences, and the Alaska Native Science and Engineering bridge program for high school students.

Alaska Business Monthly: What does a girl or young woman need to do to become an industry leader like you?

Weiss: While the numbers would suggest that oil and gas may be a male-dominated industry, that is not the entire picture. There are more women entering the industry and rising to leadership positions each year. The oil industry is a fascinating place with a lot of problems to solve, and today that talent pool that we have to choose from is rapidly changing.

Things are different from when I joined the business thirty years ago. I believe that education has been a great enabler of that diversity, especially for women. The industry is listening more to our differences. At BP we work to attract, motivate, develop, and retain the best talent from a diverse pool of candidates--our ability to be competitive and to thrive globally depends on it.

Alaska Business Monthly: Where has your career with BP taken you--geographically and up the corporate ladder?

Weiss: I started my career in Alaska in 1986 as an engineer. Over the years, I've had positions as a process engineer, reservoir engineer, and petroleum engineer. My career took me from the North Slope of Alaska to London, then to the Gulf of Mexico, and onto BP's Western Wyoming business. I also worked in global roles developing unconventional gas technology and ensuring we had the right development and deployment processes for our operations and our health safety and environmental leadership and staff. Prior to being named the Alaska regional president for BP, I was the Alaska region vice president for subsurface delivery.

Alaska Business Monthly: What is BP doing to reduce its existing footprint in the Alaska fields it continues to operate?

Weiss: The Alaska oil fields require continually improving technology to carry on responsible development and production in this amazing and challenging environment. Over decades, BP has implemented drilling and completion technologies, which reduce our surface footprint and allow us to reach a much larger reservoir subsurface area. These drilling and completion technologies include horizontal directional drilling, coiled tubing drilling, multilateral wells, and right-sized development from gravel pads. We also continue to ensure the use of state-of-the-art monitoring techniques to assure the integrity of our facilities and implement monitoring procedures.

Alaska Business Monthly: What enhanced oil recovery techniques are deployed in existing Alaska fields BP is invested in?

Weiss: Technology has increased Prudhoe Bay's proven reserves. In 2012 Prudhoe Bay produced its 12 billionth barrel. That was well over the initial recovery estimates of about 9 billion barrels, and there is still more oil to go after. Drilling and completion techniques combined with enhanced oil recovery technologies are providing big benefits at Prudhoe Bay.

After forty years, Prudhoe Bay is still the largest oil field ever discovered in North America. Every day at Prudhoe Bay, as much as 8.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas is produced and re-injected back into the ground to maintain reservoir pressure and produce more oil. Injecting the gas has improved the recovery and extended the life of the field beyond the initial estimates. Enhanced oil recovery pioneered on Alaska's North Slope includes miscible injectant, an enriched gas that scrubs more oil out of the reservoir.

Other technologies have also provided benefits. This winter we are finishing a North Prudhoe Bay 3D seismic survey. The $78 million survey covered approximately 190 square miles and will support potential land-based oilfield development.

It's important to apply technology above ground too, like the unmanned aerial vehicles, also called UAY or drones. The FAA granted BP and its vendor AeroVironment the first commercial license overland in the United States to use the technology at Prudhoe Bay. The UAV are equipped with remote sensing technology such as LIDAR and infrared to monitor North Slope infrastructure and pipelines. This technology supports safe operations and it imB proves efficiency and the reliability of BP's Alaska North Slope infrastructure and maintenance programs.

Alaska Business Monthly: What are some changes you have overseen since becoming Alaska's top BP executive two years ago?

Weiss: In 2014, BP announced a sale of interest in four North Slope oilfields to Hilcorp. This sale included all of BP's interest in the Northstar and Endicott fields and 50 percent of BP's interests in Milne Point field and the Liberty prospect. This was a challenging, yet beneficial transaction. A company like Hilcorp specializes in getting more production from mature fields and will add years to the field lives. Hilcorp will also a help bring on opportunities faster at the Milne Point oil field and potentially Liberty. This big portfolio change allows BP to play to its strengths at the giant Prudhoe Bay field and the potential development of Alaska LNG. In addition, this change should translate into additional production, which will benefit Alaskans.

BP's business in Alaska is smaller, but, BP still has about two thousand Alaska employees and supports twenty-six thousand jobs across the state. BP remains committed to its plan to increase activity at Prudhoe Bay as a result of oil tax reform with the goal to minimize production decline. Weathering the oil price drop will not be easy, but we are already working to increasing drilling production-adding activities at Prudhoe Bay.

BP is continuing its work to streamline activity and increase efficiency. For instance, we have accelerated drilling and non-rig well work at Prudhoe Bay by nearly 35 percent since 2012. In 2015, we plan to complete 552 well jobs at Prudhoe Bay, as compared to 355 well jobs in 2012.

Alaska Business Monthly: Does BP plan on investing in any Arctic OCS leases, either by bidding at sales or through partnerships?

Weiss: We have no plans beyond BP's 50 percent interest in the non-operated Liberty prospect.

Alaska Business Monthly: What can you say about the industry's latest challenge--$50 per barrel oil and the possibility of $25 per barrel oil--when no more room in stockpiles causes a bigger glut on the global market?

Weiss: BP has publicly stated that we see this low price environment continuing the next several years. However, we have seen this play before. I joined the industry in the mid-80s and those were very lean times with prices less than $10 per barrel oil. What I learned were some great principles of working very hard and stepping up and contributing where it counts. It was an environment where you had to prove that you could contribute and that you had the skills to compete in a tough business.

The challenge for BP is to respond to this low oil price environment in a way that improves efficiency and accelerates innovation. BP must ensure that we are making smart investments and we are reviewing the timing of our investments to make sure all make sense in the current low price environment.

Alaska Business Monthly: What is next for you and for BP in Alaska?

Weiss: We have been building momentum and must keep moving forward. That's why it's critical that BP remain focused on two things: continuing to invest in Prudhoe Bay production-adding activities like increased well work and drilling; and moving forward with the Alaska LNG project with our co-venturers, including the State of Alaska.

BP remains committed to progressing an Alaska LNG project that includes the State of Alaska as an equal participant and co-investor in the project. Alaska LNG is the leading opportunity and what has put this in to play is the potential to compete in the global market. Also, the alignment among the producers is stronger than it has been in the past, which has enabled unprecedented progress. A mega project of this magnitude needs strong co-venturer alignment, access to the global market, and an enabling environment from the state to move forward. I look forward to advancing this mega-opportunity with the other co-venturers.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL SECTION: Oil & Gas; BP Exploration
Comment:Solving problem in the oil & gas industry Q&A with BP's Janet Weiss.(SPECIAL SECTION: Oil & Gas)(BP Exploration)
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 1, 2015
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