IChemE Engages in project fear

If you’re a member of the Institution of Chemical Engineers

you’ll probably have heard about the EGM that’s taking place on 5th January with a vote of no confidence in the current President and Council of the IChemE as the motion.

You will also have seen a remarkable (and surely not coincidental) ramp-up in communications from the Institution – as I write this I have had four emails in five days.

The basic tenets of the motion against the Institution can be read in the attached. The response from the IChemE seems very similar to the Remain campaign during the Referendum;

those in charge do a great job, we’re looking at ways of changing and improving so let us get on with doing that, a No Confidence vote could leave us in a state of limbo and lead to a period of uncertainty.

And the most nonsensical reason –

we might lose our Royal Charter!

Welcome to Project Fear IChemE style.

If you want to read more about the arguments in support of the motion of no confidence then LinkedIn is a good place to start. I saw a recent article from Malcolm Harrison, former Chief Process Engineer at Foster Wheeler and someone I know quite well. He was certainly in favour of “shaking the tree” a little.

And that’s where I sit.

In my opinion, the IChemE is appalling value for money. I get very little for my £314 subscription per year – a monthly magazine that, in today’s 24-hour-news world is always out of date,  full of articles on R&D, sustainability, green initiatives, save the polar bears and let’s castigate those who (like me) work in Oil, Gas, Coal and nuclear.

OK, I get to put the letters after my name – but I worked damn hard for that. I get to join ONE subject group for free (others I have to pay for) – for what benefit I’m really not sure since many of them appear to have been dormant for years.

In today’s world of online forums, LinkedIn and Facebook groups I can chat to people and learn more than I could ever want to know for free, and offer advice to younger engineers when they ask. That you should have to pay more to join any of these SIGs is probably why they are largely defunct.

So which way am I going to vote?  Well it won’t surprise you to know that I’ll be voting in favour of the Motion of No Confidence for another taste of populism and in an attempt to get the IChemE to start providing value for money. Since they have an absolute monopoly in this arena let’s hope they listen.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Beware of Scam messages through LinkedIn.

Yesterday I received a LinkedIn request from Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, to join his network.


I have to say I was quite flattered and not a little surprised that such an august figure should request me to join his circle. But I did recently spend two and half years on the successful BP Shah Deniz 2 project and assumed that this had something to do with it.

A few hours later I received a message from Bob that read “Dear Chapman,  Bob” with an attachment.

Needless to say I immediately suspected a scam, not least because my Christian name is Paul, not Chapman. So I looked more closely at the profile of this Bob Dudley (which had no profile picture by the way) and saw that he had just 22 connections – not many for a very senior figure in the global Oil and Gas industry – and the email address associated with the account was a strange gmail account.

The message was reported to LinkedIn as a scam/ phishing email.

Just for fun I searched LinkedIn for “Bob Dudley BP” – you would be amazed how many entries there are!

Beware, scammers are operating everywhere.

It’s a Dangerous World Out There

Back in the summer I spotted this article about the deaths of two people from an ammonia leak at a plant in Sabah, Malaysia.


We sometimes forget that the oil industry is a dangerous one. In recent months there have been explosions at two facilities in the US including the Tesoro refinery in Carson on the outskirts of LA and in Convent, Louisiana.

Neither of these resulted in deaths which was fortunate.

The speed at which these events can unfold is truly frightening – watch this video of the Pemex refinery explosion.

Of course we realise that chemicals like ammonia and flammables like oil can be dangerous, but there are other hidden dangers in what appear to be benign places.

Every year we see on the news reports of people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning, usually in their home or on holiday, caused by poor ventilation of a boiler.


Perhaps one of the most unpleasant ways to go that I’ve heard of in recent years is reported in the photo above – where three workers died after being overcome by fumes and drowning in 3 feet of concentrated chicken waste.

Stay safe.

STOP PRESS:  Explosion in Normandy, France reported today


Sadara Starts Up


Spotted this story in the news this week – why is it significant?  Well, I worked on the FEED phase for over a year, leading the Interfaces team that helped document and validate the thousands of interfaces between the various process Units, ensuring that every Unit was supplied with the correct feeds and utilities, and produced product and effluent streams that downstream units could handle.


Sadara Chemical, a $20 billion petrochemical joint venture between national oil giant Saudi Aramco and Dow Chemical, has started operating its mixed-feed cracker at the venture’s petrochemical complex in Jubail.

The Sadara complex, comprising 26 integrated facilities, is the largest petrochemical facility to be built in a single phase. All facilities are scheduled to be commissioned by the end of 2017.


Is Donald the Trump Card for the US Oil Industry?

Following on from my previous article about oil prices, it’s interesting to hear what Donald Trump has to say on the prospects for the US oil industry.

U.S. Capitol Building
U.S. Capitol Building

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says that if elected he would immediately freeze new federal regulations – long the bane of the oil and gas industry.

His Aug. 8 speech in Detroit went further:

I will ask each and every federal agency to prepare a list of all of the regulations they impose on Americans which are not necessary, do not improve public safety and which needlessly kill jobs. Those regulations will be eliminated.

At face value this has to be good news for an industry blighted by regulations created by people who fail to understand the impact those regulations have on business and jobs.

Of course this is dependent on (a) Mr Trump getting elected and (b) Mr Trump keeping his promises – something politicians aren’t always the best at.

To strike or not to strike

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As commuters in the south of England are paralysed by a 5-day strike of train drivers, this article in Downstream Today discusses the different approaches to strike action between Europe (well Norway) and the US.

The first half of 2016 was riddled with numerous threats of strikes by oil and gas workers across the world and many made good on their threats.

Of course as Oil and Gas prices fall, companies have to make savings including redundancies as well as pay cuts.

Many of the member companies in the Norwegian Oil and Gas [Association] (NOG) are experiencing demanding times, and are in the middle of a restructuring process with extensive downsizing … We believe that both the employers and employees are very much aware of the current situation and that both parties wanted to avert strike actions this summer

However, employment law varies widely across the World;

But in North America, particularly the United States, workers aren’t afforded the same protections and the threat of a strike doesn’t hold the same weight.

Ultimately though it’s a symptom of the industry we are in – partly controlled by political interests, partly influenced by market-makers and financiers and partly influenced by cartels such as OPEC

Oil and gas workers are paid well in times of an industry boom, which is part compensation for the risk that they may be laid off if oil prices drop.

While this sentiment may be true, it doesn’t make it any easier to absorb a 33% cut in salary as I’ve experience over the past 18 months – although a 33% cut is far better than a 100% cut!

Blowing the dust off

Blowing the dust off this blog and trying to get it started again.

Surrey Hills 1

Firstly the bad news is that I was let go from KBR at the end of May. There was very little work in the office, but the debottlenecking study that I’d been working on for 6 months+ had finally been converted into a proper FEED/ EPC project which meant that it was worth swapping me out for a staff person. Not ideal, but not unexpected and if I’d been a staff person sitting on the bench twiddling my thumbs I’d expect to be given the work. Plus, the guy that took over from me is an excellent engineer and will do a really good job of the FEED/ EPC phase.

Some good news; I was actively involved in the Referendum campaign and having the time off meant I was able to dedicate a good few hours to the Leave cause, which I did. Including 20 hours of leafleting in the final three days of the campaign followed by checking my local polling station at 6:45am on polling day then telling at another polling station from 7:30am to 4:30pm followed by food then another 2 hours leafleting. Once that was done, it was back home for a shower and then off to the count at the local theatre – a great night, as it turned out.

More good news; after the Referendum, I was able to spend a bit of time with my camera and took a few nice shots of the local area (such as the one above).

But the best news; I’ve got myself back into work, this time with Amec Foster Wheeler in Reading on a refinery expansion project, which means I only had to take 6 weeks off. Considering the plight of a number of my friends and former colleagues, I’ve been very fortunate. I remember back in 1999, which was the last time I had a break, I had just 3 months contract work for the whole year and ended up taking a job selling speciality chemicals in Hampshire just to earn a few pounds.

Things are starting to recover in the Oil industry, albeit slowly, so fingers crossed we’ve got through the worst.

Does anyone in charge really know what’s going on?

bullseye s

It’s been a while since I posted anything, but this article from Downstream Today really caught my eye;

Guess what? According to OPEC;

“A persistent surplus could weigh on prices, which have collapsed to a 12-year low of $27.10 a barrel last month from over $100 in mid-2014. OPEC’s 2014 strategy shift to defend market share and not prices helped deepen the decline.”

Really? I’d never have guessed. They go on;

“It seems that the overall negative effect from the sharp decline in oil prices since mid-2014 has outweighed benefits in the short-term,” OPEC said.

You don’t say . . . who would have thought that slashing oil company profits would halt trillions of pounds of investment by . . . oil companies. And that massive cuts in profits would drive down the share prices and value of stock held by . . . investors in oil companies . . . such that they won’t back new investment.

“There seems to be a ‘contagious’ effect taking place across many aspects of the global economy.”

OK, now you get it, so what’s the plan (my emphasis) . . .

“The monthly report from OPEC indicates supply will exceed demand by 720,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2016, up from 530,000 bpd implied in the previous report.”

“Top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia told OPEC it increased production to 10.23 million bpd from 10.14 million bpd in December. The secondary sources also reported higher output from major producers Iran and Iraq. Supply from OPEC could rise further due to the lifting of sanctions on Iran. Tehran is aiming to increase output by 500,000 bpd, which would fill most of the hole left by non-OPEC members.”

To paraphrase Cat from Red Dwarf;

“That’s your plan? Nice plan. Shall I paint a bullseye on my face?”

Latest casualty of lower oil prices


Worrying news from Shell that they have ditched a planned $6.5bn gas plant in Qatar, reported HERE in the DT.

With oil prices firmly below $50 per barrel billions of dollars of projects both upstream, or in refining and petrochemicals are under threat. Global energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie has said that 32 potential European oil field developments requiring more than $87bn (£55bn) of funding are at risk with oil prices below $60 per barrel.

As I’ve reported before, while low oil prices are good for some it’s a worrying time for those who work in the industry.

Interview tips – get that job



Came across two articles recently about what skills a Chemical Engineer needs and also tips on CV and Interview techniques.

From the IChemE this article about ten skills chemical engineers should be talking about.

  • Creativity
  • Problem Solving
  • Life-Long Learners

Three things I would definitely agree with.

Then this summary of interview tips and tricks.

I’ve sat through dozens of interviews, and been successful in most.  I’ve also spent a lot of time working on my CV.

If anyone wants any advice on either of these things, do get in contact – I’m happy to help.