An Interview with David Clark, Group Energy Director, Lloyd’s Register

By Nick Schmoyer, Vice President and Technical Director at Inspectioneering. May 7, 2020

Inspectioneering had the opportunity to catch up with David Clark of Lloyd’s Register (LR) after his keynote presentation at the 2020 International Pressure Equipment Integrity Association (IPEIA) conference in Banff, Canada. Mr. Clark is LR’s Group Energy Director with global leadership for the company’s extensive technical and engineering expertise across the full life cycle in both hydrocarbon and renewable energy segments. In this role, David is driving growth and development of the LR Energy business and applying its technical and regulatory expertise to create innovative solutions to support customers through the challenges of transitioning to a net zero carbon world.

IJ: David, thank you for taking a few moments to chat with us. Your keynote presentation was well-attended and the audience seemed to really enjoy it. Tell us a little bit about yourself: how did you get into the industry? What is your primary focus right now?

David Clark (DC): I began my career as a Wireline Field Engineer with Schlumberger and spent 18 years there in a variety of line management and staff roles in Europe, Asia, Australia, Middle East and India. I continued to develop my career in upstream oil and gas services and contractor segments, holding leadership roles in some of the largest Oil and Gas EPCs.

I joined Lloyd’s Register in January 2019 as Group Energy Director, tasked with repositioning our energy business for growth. Over that last year the business has successfully driven international growth and market sector development, including the deployment of new portfolio services.

For those of us who missed your keynote presentation, can you briefly summarize your topic?

DC: I gave personal perspectives and discussed how the implementation of new and emerging technologies, both physical and digital, as well as our behaviours and how we work together, will be key to our sector’s future success in the face of growing complexity of the evolving global energy landscape. The world’s energy infrastructure is aging, with many assets still in service years beyond their initial design life, posing a new risk to reliability and safety. Major failures in assets lead to tragic injuries, loss of life, and damage to the environment. Frankly, as an industry we have to do better.

I also discussed the shifting demographic in our workforce globally. The challenge from an engineering perspective is that within the broader energy sector, against the backdrop of climate change concerns, oil and gas isn’t seen as such an attractive industry, and it is therefore increasingly difficult for us to attract new talent into the sector. We need to do more in terms of communicating the range of opportunities and activities that we have in the sector; multiple professions are involved in managing and growing an energy business, in addition to a range of engineering disciplines.

The themes of digitization, technology and innovation also featured heavily in my keynote. I dissected ways in which we can make the sector more efficient and effective; from assessing the maturity of technology, to channelling mass volumes of data to optimize operations and reduce costs, to developing solutions that help us extract hydrocarbon resources from more challenging environments and reservoirs, be it ultra-Deepwater, high H2S reservoirs or environmentally sensitive locations. 

Finally, I recognised the significant changes ahead as the world accelerates the move to a low carbon energy landscape, which will change the way we generate, store, transmit and use energy. This isn’t a transition to be frightened of and there is significant future opportunity for both traditional and renewable energy.

Out of the six major factors that you believe are affecting the safety culture at facilities (aging assets, an aging workforce, new talent, challenging exploration environments, cost pressures, and transitioning to a low carbon world), which of these do you see as the most influential in how HSE and mechanical integrity programs are shaped going forward?

DC: We need to understand the established and new risks, and how to effectively mitigate and manage them. The development, integration, and deployment of technology, both physical and digital, is mission critical for this to succeed. But people are key to all of this. How we attract, inspire, motivate and retain our current and future workforce, and how they effectively leverage new technology will ultimately determine if we succeed or fail. 

A big part of your presentation focused on the evolution of technology in our industry. This is a topic that we follow very closely at Inspectioneering. What types of innovations do you think will shape mechanical integrity programs (and, not to mention, our day to day responsibilities) over the next decade?

DC: We are seeing some really interesting new solutions for remote inspection, supported by autonomous platforms for airborne, subsea, and surface facilities. Connected worker technologies enable collaboration in real-time between sites and expert support centres. There are a number of obvious benefits in terms of costs and time for logistics and personnel deployment, but we should not underestimate the efficiency and cost savings to be made by bringing the worksite to the expert team rather than the other way round  From a safely perspective, accessing high risk environments can be achieved, with the ability to navigate to key measurement locations and execute on other data gathering and assessment tasks.

Innovation is also accelerating in the application of digital solutions, from full digital twin data platforms to virtual and augmented reality visualisation and training systems. Digital twin models are a true reflection of the physical asset and provide a platform in which one can simulate, predict, and optimise performance. This can be invaluable in managing the integrity of an asset. 

From your experience, what are the main future challenges that need to be considered and addressed as we advance in the mechanical integrity industry?

DC: Our industry has been under tremendous cost pressure over the last five years across all areas of CAPEX and OPEX spend. This has resulted in a huge amount of pressure across the sector’s global supply chain and the reduction in R&D and innovation investment. This challenge is now further amplified due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, accompanied by the dramatic low oil price. We need to get smarter in how we collaborate and work together to ensure we can sustain both a viable supply chain, as well as attractive operator returns, when the new normal emerges. The resulting, and ongoing, pressure on costs mean that every dollar spent on maintenance and integrity management has to deliver direct impact and return on investment. As industrial leaders, we need to assure ourselves that plants we manage and operate, do so safely, reliably and efficiently.

For us to succeed in the development and deployment of new technology, we also need to look at how that technology is developed, assessed, tested, trialled and integrated into new project solutions. This will take innovation and new commercial thinking at a more holistic level to ensure we break down the barriers to help encourage and take account of the full life cycle costs benefits. To really understand the underlying risks and how they can be mitigated and managed effectively, we have got to get out of our operator and supply chain silos.

The challenges we will see as new, integrated energy systems are developed need to be fully assessed and managed to assure system integrity and safety. These new solutions will see an ever-increasing integration between the hydrocarbon, renewables, storage and grid/utility systems. Currently, in most jurisdictions, these systems operate under separate regulatory oversight and standards bodies. Bringing them together in a cohesive way will not be straightforward. 

From my understanding of your presentation at IPEIA, there is concern with how the media perceives the oil and gas industry. What recommendations do you have to combat that?

DC: In a growing number of markets we are perceived as a dying industry or as the “bad guy” in the climate change argument. Whatever your view or perspective on the climate debate, almost every forward energy analysis shows clearly that hydrocarbons, and in particular gas, will be a critical energy source for decades to come. It is our industry’s expertise and experience in the development of complex, large scale projects which will be needed to create the energy and carbon management solutions of tomorrow. We are, and must be seen to the wider public, as part of the energy transition solution and not it’s enemy. This will not be straightforward, but our industry needs to engage in the public debate to help inform and bring context to what it will take to meet the internationally agreed carbon output targets. The deadlines and milestones are no longer decades away; they are the problems of today. We will need to inspire, attract and empower the next generation to be part of that solution.

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