A Day in the Life…with James Preston

Name: James Preston

Job Title: Production Geologist, Shell UK

How would you describe your job to a 10 year old?

I help try and find oil and gas buried deep underground by trying to imagine how the world looked millions of years ago. That means thinking about what kinds of plants and animals existed, where beaches, oceans, rivers, forests, and deserts were, and even what the weather was like

What part of your job do you find most interesting?

As geologists we try to make sense of incomplete data – what we don’t know is as important as what we do know, and uncertainty is the name of the game. It’s about trying to work out a story from the information you have, coming up with new ideas, and problem solving, so every day is different which keeps things interesting

‘Portugal Fieldtrip’ – Admiring a cliff outcrop on a fieldtrip to Portugal as an analogue to the field I currently work on

What part of your job do you least enjoy?

I’ve recently been supporting the drilling of wells as an Operations Geologist, which I’ve really enjoyed. The downside however, is dragging yourself out of bed in the middle of the night to answer the phone, and look at the data to make decisions. All the interesting stuff seems to happen at 3am! 

What inspired you to choose your career?

I basically stumbled into geology when I was looking for university courses because it looked like a blend of the bits of physics chemistry and geography I found interesting. Geology worked out well – it was great to study, and took me all round the world on fieldwork. I ended up choosing a career in O&G because it was a really practical application of geology, and it’s such an important industry in the modern world

What or who has had the greatest influence on your career progression?

I think the biggest influence anything has had on my career, strangely, is the downturn in 2016. That was the year I graduated, and suddenly the opportunities dried up. The job hunting made me realise that I really wanted to stick with geology and O&G  – it gave me the motivation to keep searching and chase every opportunity. After many months I was fortunate to get some experience in the industry, and I’ve luckily ended up with quite an interesting career path so far. The whole experience gave me an appreciation of my current role, and how important it is to keep progressing.

Name one practical thing we could do in the O&G industry to shift the dial on equality?

I think for me it’s around outreach in schools and universities. We need make sure we share the amazing work we do, the impact it has on our daily lives, and the skills we need for the future.  The more people aware of the industry and all the areas they could study and make a career in, the more likely we are to attract a diverse workforce. Geology is a great example, it’s probably unfamiliar to most (I stumbled into it myself), but it’s something I enjoy working in, and I’m sure many others would too. There’s a huge range of roles and skills needed in our industry, and we need to ensure we are attracting diverse and talented people to steer our future, particularly through the energy transition. There’s interesting careers to be excited about and they must be accessible to all.

‘Work Setup’ – While most of us are working from home this is how a working day at the ‘office’ looks for me – we’ll be to normal soon hopefully

What is the last song you listened to? (be honest)

Supermassive Black Hole by Muse

If there was a parallel universe with another version of ourselves, what job would you do there?

I almost went down the volcanology path, so in a parallel universe somewhere I might be camping on the side of a volcano instead of writing this! Thinking a bit more broadly, I’ve always found space fascinating, so I think working on something like the recent Mars rover would be cool – it’s incredible what they have achieved so far

If you could solve one problem, what would it be and how would you solve it

I think an important one both in the UK and internationally is fuel/energy poverty. What I’m referring to is when people can’t afford or don’t have access to heating, electricity, lighting etc. It’s such an important problem because it’s a fundamental control on quality of life across the world.  

It’s a complex issue and the solution isn’t easy – to ensure everyone has access to affordable energy we need technology, investment, infrastructure, and international collaboration, and of course this all needs to be done sustainably and within emissions targets. It’s also having an appreciation of the merits of different energy sources, where and when they can work, and how we can generate that sustainable and affordable energy mix. We’re in a great position in the UK to share our experience and learnings, particularly through the energy transition, and its why our industry is more important than ever. I hope that over my career I can do my bit to help!

‘Spain Fieldtrip’ – Another fieldtrip, this time training in sunny Spain, perks of being a

Tell us something about yourself that may surprise everyone?

I’ve never watched the TV show, Friends. It completely passed me by, so I never understand when people reference it and they’re always surprised

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