Remarkable lives › 1980s (from 1979) › Dominic Emery (Geology, 1980)

Dominic Emery was born in 1963 and attended St Anne’s College in 1980 to read Geology.

Following his degree, Dominic studied for a PhD at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Since then Dominic has worked at BP in a number of roles, starting with a placement in the Sedimentology Branch using his PhD experience. His work with BP has included roles in the Exploration and Production Division, with work in Asia and the Middle East, as well as in the UK North Sea. Dominic has been heavily involved in BP’s Alternative Energy business acting for BP Alternative Energy as Deputy CFO (2007-9) and then as Chief of Staff (2009-12). Dominic took on his current role as VP for Long-Term Planning and Policy for BP Group in 2013. Dominic lives in Cambridge with his wife Sandra Emery (née Hardy), who is  St Anne's alumna.

Could you share a memory from your student days at St Anne’s?

There are many as you can imagine. Probably one of the most vivid memories was on May morning. I was in a rather bad band with Roger Crisp, we were called The Dream Factory. I remember getting up horribly early on May morning and going and parking all of our gear, our amps and our drums, outside of Univ and bashing away for an hour or so in front of the bleary eyed hordes on a bright sunny may morning. That was quite a deep memory of my time there. The very first time that we fielded a St. Anne’s rugby team, previously I’d been playing for the St. Anne’s St. John’s combined team. We managed to get together 15 St. Anne’s gents and we played against St. Catherine’s Seconds on a completely waterlogged pitch at St. Cat’s. Very first time St. Anne’s had fielded a rugby team and we won 6-3. That was in the days when a try counted for 4 points and a conversion for 2. So we won it with a converted try to a penalty, 6-3, and it was the most appalling game of rugby ever but nevertheless it was a landmark in St. Anne’s sporting events. You’ll noticed I haven’t mentioned anything academic yet. I studied geology which was a lot of fun and I guess another highlight, I suppose for its bizarreness, was that as part of the exams in geology in those days we had a thing called a quarry practical. As its name suggests you had to go to a quarry and then you had to chip rocks away with a hammer wearing safety glasses and a helmet and describe the rocks and make a little log record of the rocks. You did this wearing sub fusc and wellington boots and a hard hat. That was memorable and bizarre in the same breath. 

Could you tell us a bit about the dynamic of your year as one of the first co-ed years?

I didn’t notice anything particularly odd about it, I’d been to a co-educational school, because we weren’t the very first year. The ratio rebalanced itself, it wasn’t quite 50:50 but it was getting towards that so it felt a bit more natural. I didn’t notice any ill-will of the 3rd year women towards the men, if anything they were quite benevolent and treated us in an appropriate way, maybe even a slightly indulgent way. It seemed a very natural environment, it didn’t seem in the slightest bit stuffy, it was very welcoming. 

How do you think your studies at St Anne’s affected your later life?

Well firstly I met my wife at St Anne’s… Meeting my wife has made a difference to the rest of my life in no uncertain terms, and for the positive of course. Then I think the studies I did in Geology set the scene for a subsequent PhD and going on to work in the oil and gas and energy industry.

What advice would you give to St Anne’s Earth Scientists about the realities of going into BP, etc.?

I would say that particularly with earth sciences and geology an undergraduate degree is great, but if you like it enough and you’re planning to do it for a career then I would thoroughly recommend doing a Master’s at least, and potentially a PhD because I do think it sets you up a little bit better if you’re wanting to do geology as a career. If one wanted to go straight into industry I think it is more challenging if you’re going in as an Earth Scientist without a Master’s or a PhD because you’re competing against people with those qualifications. I think my simple view is that if you like it enough then another year at least spent doing a master’s or three years spent doing a PhD is time well spent. Then of course after that you then get the option to decide well maybe actually I still like the academic world and want to stay in it. I was all for staying in academia until about halfway through my PhD and then I had an epiphany based primarily on the fact that a lot of my friends seemed to be earning a lot of money and having a different kind of time, that wasn’t to say that I wasn’t having a great time. I thought ‘maybe it would be good to try to put these studies to some sort of practical application.’

What was your first job after St Anne’s?

I’ve been at BP since I left university. I went from Oxford Geology and then I did a PhD at Cambridge and then I left Cambridge and joined BP and have been there since 1986. I joined a specialist part of BP’s geology team called the Sedimentology Branch and I was given a number of rocks to look at and interpret because we’d just made a rather moderate oil discovery in Thailand. I was asked to give my interpretation of the reservoir, the rock in which the oil and gas is held, and the likelihood of how big this reservoir could be, what is the potential for it holding more oil and gas. I have to say I was very naïve because I didn’t really know very much about industry having done a PhD and my boss helped direct me to ensure that my interpretation had practical as well as academic value. 

BP is a huge business with a long history, what challenges do you face?

I think the challenges recently are split into two. One is the broader environmental challenges that relates to the industry as a whole. For BP, specifically after the tragedy of 2010 with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, recovering and actually resetting the company back on the path to growth. The two big external challenges are really coping with the fluctuating oil and gas price, which has really fluctuated down in the last nine months or so. The other big challenge is around ensuring our industry is prepared and plays its appropriate part in the whole climate change and carbon emissions agenda. I’m responsible for long-term planning and policy within BP and that means we need to ensure that we have a strategy and plan that is both adaptable to oil price and gas price but also is adaptable to changes in carbon emissions and climate.

How would you hope to see the world change over the next 10 years?

I think there are many challenges with regard to global infrastructure and global energy. Speaking at a very macro level we have a population that is going to grow from 7 billion at the moment to probably 9 billion in the late 2030s/ early 2040s which is an extraordinary population growth and with it comes a doubling of GDP and an increased demand for energy. Of course the population of the world wants to better itself, everyone wants increased prosperity. We need to ensure that we balance that increased prosperity with affordable energy, with secure energy and also with sustainability. I think the big, grand challenge is how do we secure more energy to support the growth and prosperity of the planet without actually damaging the planet. I think over the next 10 years we would expect to see a path towards a more orderly transition towards sustainable energy and sustainable growth… Governments and the UN have a leading role to play here but I think industry also needs to ensure that, once those governmental frameworks are established, we can respond in the most effective way. 

Were there any BP positions which you found particularly interesting?

They’ve all been very different. I did enjoy trying to establish our alternative energy businesses. That was a really interesting challenge especially in the late 2000s, we essentially had no wind business and then suddenly we grew to become one of the US’s biggest wind businesses. Prior to that in the early nineties I worked on a number of exploration activities in Vietnam and China and that was a lot of fun. Nothing really beats drilling a well and then suddenly discovering that the well has got hydrocarbons in it. We went into this well and the gas column kept going on and going on and going on until it was almost a kilometre deep and we realised we’d found a very big gas field offshore Vietnam. So those things are quite exciting, they give you a real thrill when you see your geological prediction actually start to materialise. 

What advice would you give to your university age self?

My advice would be to have a general plan about where you want to go but don’t get discomforted by the fact things may go off-piste from time to time and take you into very different areas. Second thing, always be curious and that means both maintain a level of almost childish enthusiasm for things and don’t take things for granted. Again part of the scientific training one gets as an undergraduate causes you generally to be curious and ask questions. I think the important thing is to maintain that curiosity all the way through and don’t get fobbed off. The other thing is in general the group and network of friends that you make at university. You may not ring them up every day but they are an important source of inspiration for you. 

What is currently your greatest goal (Professional or otherwise)

My greatest goal at the moment is really being part of the oil and gas industry response to carbon emissions and climate change and trying to create a credible, realistic and thoughtful voice for the industry.