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Career stories: from oil and gas to offshore wind

Esther and Catherine are part of our Marine Consenting and Environment team (MC&E). Both have experience in oil and gas but were keen to work on renewable energy projects. Find out what their wider experience brings to their chosen careers at RPS.

30 May 2024 | 4 min read
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Meet Esther and Catherine

Esther Hernandez is a Principal Consultant who has been with RPS for three years. Before this, her consultancy experience included eight years in the oil and gas industry and a year in aquaculture (salmon fish farms). Having taken a break from consulting for several years, she re-joined with a desire to work in renewable energy.

Catherine Wilkinson is a Senior Environmental Consultant. She joined RPS five years ago. Catherine started as a graduate working on environmental permitting of oil and gas projects, but also had a keen interest in developing a career in renewables.

Both are currently focussed on offshore wind, supporting the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Ossian Offshore Wind Farm. Find out more about their experiences below.

First off, why is it important for the renewables industry to draw on oil and gas experience?

Esther: “In the past, there hasn’t been an overlap of people working in both industries, but now there’s a lot of discussion about how the skills are transferable, such as in engineering. The client support and project management  skills are the same, such as keeping costs down and ultimately achieving the consent [to develop the project] that we’re working towards.”

How is oil and gas experience useful in your current job?

Esther: “Having overarching experience of consultancy is valuable. (The same is true of any industry, such as my experience in aquaculture consultancy). Learning how to communicate with clients is an important skill.

“The way you’d structure an EIA for oil and gas is also very similar in some ways, yet not the same. Offshore wind assessments go much further because the industry is less well-established, while oil and gas has a longer history, so there’s more knowledge about potential environmental impacts.

“In oil and gas, environmental assessment programmes are much shorter. You learn to work at a different pace and that is a valuable transferable skill.”

Catherine: “I agree. I feel that learning to work in such a fast-paced environment is the reason I've been able to take on a project management role. I’ve been a project manager for lots of smaller oil and gas permits where the assessment programmes were just four to six weeks long. You have to be very organised, know what you're doing, know the financial aspects and communicate well. To compare, we’ve been working on Ossian for more than two years – although in that time, there have been multiple deliverables, each with their own programme to be managed.”

Coming into renewables, you both mention enjoying the challenge of a steep learning curve.

Catherine: “If I’d started out in renewables, I would still have gained the skills I mentioned above but it would have taken a bit longer because renewables projects are so much longer.

“The upside to that would be getting to build those skills over time. In some ways, consultants can be thrown into learning to deliver quickly – but I’ve been able to see results much faster.”

Esther: “When I started at RPS, without having renewables experience, I was jumping in at the deep end, to an extent! However, I’m used to a fast-paced working environment and thinking on my feet. I didn’t know that much about oil and gas when I first started in that industry either, but having had that fast learning experience makes you less fazed about learning new things quickly because you've done it before.”

Why RPS?

Esther: “I was drawn to their big push into offshore renewables. I wanted to go into that field, and they obviously saw things that could be transferred between industries and were open to that. (At other interviews I was invited to, the companies were more focussed on using my experience within oil and gas.)”

Catherine: “RPS has so many different industries and sectors that they offer roles in, and for me, it was also the chance to work in renewables. And I just got such a good feeling from the two ladies who interviewed me, who became my line manager and my team manager. It felt like a welcoming environment from that first interview.”

Esther: “It's a lovely team and everybody gets along! Also, the technical expertise is pretty amazing. It just fills you with confidence that when we are, for example, reviewing a report by one of our technical specialists, it will be well-written and well-thought-out, rather than finding issues.”
 
Catherine: “Over the past five and a half years that I've been here, I've also seen a lot of positive changes. There’s been a lot more coming together of people, maybe because we’ve been through the period of lockdowns [during Covid-19]. Our team is quite spread-out geographically, and we communicate a lot more between various teams. Everyone is just so approachable, and there’s lots of sharing knowledge too.”

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