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Petrobras Hiring 14,000 Geologists, Roughnecks for New Fields

Bloomberg: Petrobras Hiring 14,000 Geologists, Roughnecks for New Fields 
By Joe Carroll

Petrobras, as the company is known, plans to expand its workforce 23 percent to about 74,000, surpassing Chevron Corp., the second-largest U.S. oil producer. The hiring binge is part of a $112.7 billion expansion that may allow Brazil to overtake the output of all OPEC members except Saudi Arabia.

Petrobras lacks the workers needed to tap billions of barrels that lie in the offshore oil finds. The company is trying to hire more than a dozen people a day amid intensifying competition for skilled oil workers after crude prices surged to a record.

“If some of the hypotheses are true and we have very, very, very large reserves, then probably we are going to face some constraints on personnel,” Chief Executive Officer Jose Sergio Gabrielli said in a May 5 interview in Houston.

Petrobras said this week that it will begin pumping oil by April 2009 at its Tupi field 250 kilometers (155 miles) off the Atlantic coast, a year ahead of schedule. The field may hold 8 billion barrels of recoverable oil, Rio de Janeiro-based Petrobras said in November, the hemisphere’s biggest petroleum find since Mexico’s Cantarell field was discovered.

Carioca

Production at the nearby Carioca deposit may begin in four to five years, Gabrielli said in the interview. A Brazilian regulator said last month that Carioca may hold 33 billion barrels of crude, which would make it the largest field outside the Middle East. Petrobras said it will take at least three months of drilling to evaluate Carioca.

Tupi and seven other fields in the same region of the Atlantic are central to Gabrielli’s plan to boost production by 79 percent to the equivalent of 4.2 million barrels of crude a day by 2015. Output at that level would put Petrobras on par with Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp., the world’s biggest energy company.

Petrobras has risen 28 percent in Sao Paulo trading since announcing the Tupi discovery in November. Over the same period, a Standard & Poor’s index of major U.S. producers has climbed 7.6 percent.

Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Saudi Arabia’s state oil company also are accelerating hiring as more oil production moves into deep oceans and harsh environments that require more advanced technology, said Dan McSpirit, an analyst who covers the oil industry for BMO Capital Markets in Denver.

“There’s a shortage of good talent,” McSpirit said.

Chevron, Exxon

San Ramon, California-based Chevron, one of 13 companies exploring the Atlantic seabed off Brazil’s coast, employed 65,000 people at the end of 2007. Exxon Mobil had 80,800.

Petrobras intends to recruit all of its new employees from Brazilian universities and technical schools, said Gabrielli, a 59-year-old, Boston University-trained economist.

“They probably can,” said Christopher Ross, a vice president at CRA International Inc. who advised Venezuela in the 1990s on opening that country’s oil sector to foreign companies. “Brazil’s a large country with a very good educational system, and Petrobras has a very positive image at home which allows them to attract the best and the brightest.”

Petrobras is the company of choice for Brazilian university graduates because it offers training and “lifetime careers,” said Guilherme Estrella, who heads the company’s exploration and production business. “That’s our tradition at Petrobras, so we have a very good image,” he told reporters yesterday at an industry conference in Houston.

Tarnished Image

U.S. and European oil companies are having a tougher time recruiting graduates because the industry’s image has been tarnished in the past 20 years, said Ross, co-author of Terra Incognita: A Navigation Aid for Energy Leaders (PennWell Books, 2007).

“There’s more work to do than people to do it right now,” Ross said. “All of the scientific disciplines are coveted and the companies are competing aggressively with each other to fill positions.”

Petrobras isn’t recruiting any of the 18,000 employees fired by Venezuela’s state oil company during a 2002-2003 strike against the government, Estrella said. Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the biggest oil exporter in the Americas, dismissed more than half of its scientists, managers and laborers after a failed strike aimed at toppling President Hugo Chavez crippled output.

“It’s not because we don’t want the foreigners,” CEO Gabrielli said yesterday at the conference. “It’s just that we have Brazilians ready and capable to do the work.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Joe Carroll in Houston at[email protected].

Last Updated: May 7, 2008 00:00 EDT

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