The role of the entrepreneur in oil and gas

by | Jan 12, 2023 | Skill Set, Winter 2023 | 0 comments

Silhouette oil rocking background of a big city at sunset

In an industry with a deep-rooted legacy such as oil and gas, striking out on one’s own with an independent business venture may seem far more difficult than starting up a company in, say, a tech field. But in fact, entrepreneurship in oil and gas may play an important role in the future of petroleum and meeting energy demands today and in the future.

We talked to Steve Enger ’81, former president and CEO of Denver-based private upstream oil company Edge Energy, about what entrepreneurship looks like in the industry today and the value independent ventures can bring to the future of the business of energy. Here were some of our takeaways.

There is space for entrepreneurship in the upstream business—if you’re willing to take the risk.

The upstream oil and gas business is one of the most lucrative and critical components of the world’s energy supply today and is made up of large companies with enormous capital. That can make it difficult to see where startups or other independent ventures can fit into that landscape and be competitive. For people entering the workforce today or who are only a few years into their career and looking to start their own business, it is going to be harder to compete with those larger, established companies—but it’s not impossible.

“There is still opportunity for small companies and entrepreneurs—whether individuals or small teams—to get involved in the upstream oil and gas business. I do think it’s more challenging than it was five or 10 years ago, but those opportunities still exist,” Enger said. “You might have to be more creative and perhaps take more risks as an entrepreneur to be able to find a spot in the landscape. If you’ve got the spirit, you have the right idea and sufficient seed capital, you can get your idea to the point where you can prove it has value. Of course, the market will ultimately let you know if your idea is good enough.”

Entrepreneurship and innovation will likely play a larger role in improving technology and processes to keep oil competitive and efficient.

By bringing new operational ideas and technologies to the oil fields, new business ventures can make a big impact in how the petroleum industry meets energy demands while simultaneously meeting the environmental constraints companies contend
with today. 

“Where I really see opportunity for entrepreneurs is in the service side of things,” Enger said. “That can be software. It can be someone who has a better mouse trap for how something is done in the back office. It can be an improvement to any of the many processes that are involved on the business side
of things.”

Improvements to operational abilities such as the drilling of wells, production processes, facility designs, software and more that are generally more environmentally friendly while maintaining a high level of output can help the industry move forward in a positive way. 

“There are things we can do to keep oil and gas as economically competitive as it currently is, because energy prices matter to consumers, and we can also be better citizens,” Enger said. “I think that we’ve made considerable progress in the last five, maybe 10 years in many of those technology areas.”

And people with ideas from beyond the petroleum industry might also prove to be beneficial and provide unique insights into building a bright energy future.

“We’ve always been good at drilling wells and have focused on doing it faster and getting more oil out of the ground and improving fracturing technologies over the last few decades. But some of the processes and logistics and transactional efficiencies we can borrow from other sectors of technology,” Enger said.

Graduates entering the workforce with a strong business sense and entrepreneurial skills will have a leg up when it comes to leading the future of the oil and gas industry.

While all Mines graduates start their professional lives with a stellar education, supplementing that technical knowledge with more business and innovation skills will only add to the unparalleled reputation Mines graduates have in the workforce today. That’s where the opportunities enabled by Mines’ new entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem will come into play.

“Historically, Mines made us hard workers and problem solvers who are stubborn and relentless. Those are important qualities for entrepreneurs,” Enger said. “Now, we can layer that with some specific curricula focused on business fundamentals. For those interested in entrepreneurship in oil and gas, you’ve got to know the fundamentals and have the technical foundation, especially for the core upstream business. And then you have this opportunity to take advantage of this specific business and E&I coursework and resources on campus, which are going to be a big advantage relative to those of us who graduated decades ago.”

And Enger sees oil and gas playing a big role in the world’s energy future, in concert with the many new technologies coming on the market today—and today’s graduates are going to lead that future. 

“I don’t see oil and gas production declining in my lifetime. And I hope that other energy sources prove to be more economic and more important supplements to that over time,” Enger said. “It’s going to be a very long multi-decade transition, whatever the new future of energy is.”