With oil and natural gas at record prices and production levels falling, BP plc is on a massive recruiting drive, and has hired 13 search firms to hire 400 new geologists, reservoir engineers, drilling specialists and other technicians to boost its North American operations from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada by the end of the year.

The London-based major said 100 of the positions are replacements for staff moved to other positions in the company, while another 300 slots are open for new jobs to bulk up North American operations. Most of the jobs will report to BP’s campus in west Houston, but there also are open positions in Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma.

“In London…there isn’t as broad and deep a labor pool as Houston,” said BP’s recruiting project manager Jeff Lelek. “Houston is evolving within BP as a center of expertise in exploration and production.” The company also needs to beef up its Texas staff after moving its Sakhalin Russian business unit to Houston.

BP’s job openings include about 100 drilling and completion specialist jobs, 100 subsurface engineers and geoscientist positions, 100 facility operators and project managers, and another 70 executive, analyst and marketing positions.

“Recruiting the staff necessary to achieve our growth agenda is a big challenge at a time when some of our competitors are also increasing staff,” said Lelek. “Fortunately we have some advantages. These include an unmatched portfolio of projects that we believe will be attractive to the sort of highly skilled individuals we hope to hire. BP also offers some attractive workplace options, allowing individuals to better balance their home and work lives.”

Among other things, BP has an onsite day care center that offers employee discounts and a “9-80” workweek in which employees get every other Friday off.

Majors are not the only producers looking for qualified staff. At Houston-based Noble Energy, there are about 40 positions currently open, with 15 technical staff needed at its Houston and Denver offices. Susan Cunningham, senior vice president of exploration, said that energy companies “basically have to poach” for new employees.

She said that bonuses are larger and now stock options, once only used for upper management, are now being used by some companies looking for talented technical employees. Some signing bonuses offer a large lump sum after completing two years with a company, Cunningham said.

At a recent conference of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, it was a toss-up among producers which was the bigger problem, lack of qualified people or environmental battles.

Finding enough qualified oil and gas employees is not an easy task in today’s market, according to Charles Taylor, vice president for TIG First Source, one of the search firms that BP is using. Taylor said that “in a market with $65 oil, there are very few unemployed…They’re happy, they’ve got a six-figure job already.” He said those types of eligible employees don’t look for jobs through the Internet or in print advertising.

Washington Group International, an international engineering, construction, and management solutions company headquartered in Boise, ID, said Tuesday it also is expanding its oil, gas and petrochemical business in Houston.

“Houston is the major hub for the oil, gas, and petrochemical industry,” said senior executive vice president Stephen M. Johnson. “It’s the place to be.”

Through recruiting in the Houston area and also relocating talent from elsewhere, the company plans to add approximately 200 oil, gas, and petrochemical professionals to the Houston operation within the next 12 months, with the staffing there expected to grow to more than 500 within the next three years. The company is looking for both experienced personnel and new graduates, and the new hires will join tenured Washington Group project and technical professionals already at its Houston office.

“The oil, gas, and petrochemical market is huge, and it’s growing fast,” Johnson said. “Oil and gas companies are expected to invest $200 billion a year in global energy development over the next decade. We aim to help meet that demand. We have the know-how and the proven results, and we are further expanding our talent pool to help support that growth.”

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