Some oil and gas companies want to be known as anything but.

During these convoluted times, companies engaged in hydrocarbon production are looking to distance themselves from their core product. The rebranding trend comes as public sentiment of fossil fuels dims while they demand more of same. Changing brands to something that sounds less oily is also seen as a way to attract young technical whiz kids, who may have more progressive leanings, into preparing for an industry career, as companies fret over a dearth of newly minted engineers, geophysicists and the like. The slim pickings from the university talent pipeline were highlighted in the results of a Texas Tech University survey of petroleum-related schools that showed only 400 petroleum engineers graduating from U.S. universities in 2022 — an 83% decline from the 2017 peak.

Though it seems to be garnering more attention lately, rebranding is not new. In 2018, Norwegian behemoth Statoil changed its name to the more hipster sounding Equinor. Two years later, British Petroleum adopted the BP moniker, enabling it to conveniently proclaim itself as going “beyond petroleum.” The two, incidentally, are now partners in a couple of major offshore wind projects in New York.

Now comes oilfield services giant Schlumberger, which less than two months ago said it would thereafter be known as SLB to signify its focus on decarbonization and the energy transition. Other than disassociating itself with the iconic oilfield brand, it seems unclear how exactly its new identity encapsulates that focal point.            

And this from Paul Pastusek, a drilling mechanics advisor with ExxonMobil, no less. “I think we need to rebrand as the energy industry. Forget about oil and gas and say energy in all forms is what makes life better,” he said at September’s International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) Drilling Technology Committee (DEC) hybrid forum in Houston.

The forum was held to debate the ongoing struggle to plug the brain drain in an industry increasingly transforming from reliance on dumb iron to digitalization, automation and high-level data analysis. Wholesale rebranding was but one of the ideas floated to attract and retain desperately needed technical talent, who now have ample opportunities in industries that may offer a more agreeable work-life balance and without the baggage of continual boom and bust cycles. Emphasizing the industry’s high-tech and environmental, societal and governance (ESG) initiatives, they say, could go a long way to help entice tech-savvy newbies.    

“The industry is going through some cycles we've never seen before with the pandemic and the sudden rush for energy supplies with the other world issues going on. A lot of high-end technical problems need to be solved and the competition (for talent) is tough,” said one of the forum organizers, Blaine Dow, of Schlumberger, er SLB.

Jim Redden is a Houston-based independent journalist, specializing in the oil and gas and associated energy sectors. He has more than 47 years of diverse communications experience, ranging from newspaper and magazine reporter and editor to corporate communicator. Redden holds a BA degree in journalism from Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. He can be reached at [email protected]