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Get to know our industry managers: Mark Thomas

Oil & Gas Industry Marketing Group Manager

Mark Thomas

Endress+Hauser would be nothing without our industry experts. They keep both us and our customers up to date on all the goings-on that happen in their industry and help ensure we are ready for any changes that may come our way. Mark Thomas has been with Endress+Hauser for 15 years and has been immersed in the oil and gas industry for even longer. He provided us with a great inside look into the industry in this Q&A.  

How did you become interested in the oil & gas industry? 

My first job out of college was working in refineries doing heat exchanger audits. We would travel all over the country to various refineries and pretty much live in the refinery five days a week, walking throughout the complex, climbing ladders and taking measurements on heat exchangers. That really introduced me to the industry, grabbed my interest and made me want to learn more about it.  

What do you find the most fascinating about your industry? 

The more and more I learn about it, the more fascinating it becomes. Lately, I’ve been tuned into the national security aspect of being energy independent, how the industry started in the US and how it’s grown and evolved over the years. Fracking and other innovations have been developed in the US and have made getting oil and gas out of the ground safer and cheaper, so we can bring cheaper energy to the rest of the world.  

Our national security weakens if we are dependent on another country supplying us with oil, gas, or energy. It limits our ability to leverage and negotiate with our countries when we are dependent on someone else. The more independent we are, the more self-sufficient and the stronger it puts us in the world from a geopolitical standpoint.  

What are the current trends the oil & gas industry is experiencing? 

The current trends are similar to what other industries are also experiencing. Digitalization, is a big trend, the need to be more productive with fewer people. The workforce trend is definitely happening in this industry. There is a big move toward ESG (environmental social governments) companies looking to ensure that they are producing oil and gas and refining it and piping it as efficiently as possible, it’s definitely a big trend as of recently. The decarbonization topic is happening as well.  

What issues and challenges is the industry facing? 

The main one is a lack of investor confidence. Investors haven’t been as willing to invest in the industry because they don’t want to be seen as supporting the oil and gas industry. There are headwind challenges facing the industry from a political perspective, so it’s a little bit harder to get permits, to meet all the strict regulations in place. The past couple of years have really flipped the supply and demand trends upside down a couple of times. We had oversupply and then we went into the pandemic, and we had too much supply and no demand anymore, so production stopped. Now demand has picked up, but we don’t have nearly the supply, which is why we have four- and five-dollar gas prices. Trying to keep up with that has been a challenge for sure.  

How is the oil & gas finding solutions for these challenges? 

There are a few approaches here, one big one is the emphasis on shareholder returns. Most of these companies are publicly traded and almost all of them have made a dedicated push to increase shareholder returns, which is helping with the reputation piece. The reputation previously was that these companies would get rich and sit on all this money and make more money, but it’s moved to giving more of its money back to shareholders. I would say the other ones are their commitment to the environment and coming up with alternative solutions, and the investment into new energies, the hydrogen, the carbon capture, those kinds of things.  

What do you think the industry will look like over the next 5-10 years? 

The industry will continue to grow as there is a need globally for energy. I think we’ll see a drastic increase on the gas side of the market, more than on the oil side. With the US’s ability to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the need for LNG across Europe, Asia and South America, the US is really poised to become the global leader in LNG exports. I think that’s going to be one of the biggest things we’ll see in the next 5-10 years. We’ll also see continued emphasis on investment into the new energies- back to the hydrogen, anomia, etc.  

Is there anything else you would like to share?  

I don’t just have an interest in the oil and gas industry, I also have an interest in instrumentation in regard to the industry. During my first job, doing the heat exchanger audits, I was in a refinery in the south of Houston, a BP refinery. I worked in there quite a bit, finished up and moved on to my next assignment and the next week saw that same refinery in the news. It had a massive explosion, killed several people and injured hundred others. I was just there the week prior. It was a scary experience even though I wasn’t there but thinking about how close I was to being there and how it impacted so many people and that really got me thinking more about the instrumentation I was using at the time doing those audits. The explosion could have been prevented with proper or updated instrumentation. That has been in the back of my brain for my entire career, thinking about that experience and why I have always had an interest in the industry, but also how instrumentation can play a big part in preventing things like that in the future.  

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