Knowing the law that rules the oil and gas industries is not just a hot topic for lawyers. Geologists seeking out new mining sites, engineers planning the drills, and those responsible for drawing up mining contracts, all need to know the legal technicalities that affect this enormous industry. "It's not just about knowing the black letter law," says Derek Auchie, law professor at Aberdeen Business School. "You need to know how it all operates in practice."
In the past this was learnt on the job, but right now, as oil and gas prices soar and the search is on for more fossil fuels, there are not enough properly trained engineers and lawyers to deal with the legalities of the oil hunt. What's more, gas, which in the past was wasted unless it could be transported through a pipeline, can now be frozen and liquefied and thus much more easily transported, so there are thousands more gas contracts that need to be processed than ever before. And, of course, there's also the growth in environmental law. In developed economies, especially Canada, protecting the environment is a key part of the industry, while in the Middle East, says Hugh Fraser of Hugh Fraser International, a Dubai-based legal firm, "This issue is slowly coming up the agenda."
This need for skilled hands in a booming and ever-more complex industry is why, this September, the Aberdeen Business School, in conjunction with the United Arab Emirates-based law firm, is launching the world's first one-year postgraduate certificate in oil and gas law.
"Oil and gas law training for legal and other industry professionals is sorely lacking both in the UK and elsewhere," says Auchie. Fraser agrees: "I think there is a huge gap in the market out here in the UAE. The Middle East is still a developing world, and I'd like to see better lawyers on the other side of the negotiating table."
Students can opt for face-to-face lectures at the Aberdeen campus or online study through Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University, which already has a well-established virtual campus, with 12,000 students participating in an interactive online learning environment. For students based in the United Arab Emirates, online study will be supplemented with a week in the classroom each semester. The online aspect of the course is vital, as it is aimed at practising lawyers who want to move into oil and gas, and to senior engineers who come face to face with contracts - neither of whom are likely to be able to put down their tools and move to Aberdeen for a year. So far they've had applicants from Nigeria, the US, Middle East, Far East and Australia. The online course also offers flexible modes so that professionals can learn at their own pace, and at any time of the day or week, so that they can fit the studies around their jobs.
It's also aimed at graduates from business, management, construction and surveying. "We are deliberately trying not to make it excessively technical," says Fraser. "We hope newcomers could acclimatise equally well."
Teaching staff are a mixture of academics and specialist oil and gas legal professionals, and the course will teach key legal concepts in contract law, reparation law and the law of evidence, an understanding of the UK (or other relevant) legal system, and most importantly, how to apply those principles in the oil and gas industry in the UK or other major oil and gas countries. Lecture notes can be downloaded, and students will also be provided with an extensive legal database.
Assessment focuses on problem-solving abilities and applying the law. Throughout the course students will be given practical oil and gas scenarios and will be expected to post up answers in an area where everyone else can see and respond. These are not marked, but are monitored, and at the end of the term, they will be required to complete similar work.
The rewards are remarkable. "Newly qualified people could earn £30,000 very quickly," says Fraser. "Within five years you could be earning six figures.."
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