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Bechtel’s Impact Report

Celebrating Engineers Week with James O'Brien

  • By
    portrait of Olivia Kalb
    Olivia Kalb, Communications Specialist
  • 22 February 2023

It’s National Engineers Week in the U.S., and we’re celebrating the extraordinary work of our engineers as they help to build inspiring projects around the world each and every day.

This year’s theme from DiscoverE, our partner of over three decades, is “Creating the Future,” which celebrates the role engineers have to play in innovating solutions to global challenges that will impact future generations.

For 125 years, Bechtel engineers have been making history by engineering a stronger, more resilient world. Now, as we look to the next 125 years, we spoke with a few of our engineers to see what they think is the future of engineering and what impacts engineers can make.

James O’Brien is a process engineer who has worked on projects around the world. As more countries begin to reduce their fossil fuel dependence, he’s excited to see how engineers can help support the energy transition and what strides will be taken in new technologies.

About James O'Brien

I grew up in the north-east of England, and after finishing school, I studied chemical engineering at the University of Sheffield. Following the completion of my master’s degree in 2015, I joined Bechtel’s Energy business as a graduate process engineer and have been working for the company ever since. Since joining, I’ve worked as a process and project engineering on projects in Egypt, Abu Dhabi, the U.S., Mexico, and Thailand and have been located in the Bechtel office in London and on international assignments in South Korea and Thailand. I am currently working as a senior process engineer on the Suez Petrochemical Complex in Egypt. When built, the project will be largest petrochemical complex in Africa and is one of the largest FEED (front end engineering design) projects that Bechtel has ever undertaken.


Why should today’s students consider an engineering career?

During my earlier education, I always interested in maths and science, especially the application of science in building things. Hence, studying engineering at university was something I was naturally inclined towards. My real interest in pursuing a career in engineering started when I did some industry internships whilst studying at university. Occasionally at university, there is a tendency to get lost in the literature and in long equations. However, on my internships, I got an opportunity to see how the concepts I had learnt at university were applied in real life. Creating solutions and products that have an impact on everyone’s lives was fascinating to me and really cemented my desire to pursue a career in engineering. If this sounds like something of interest, then it’s definitely worth considering a career in engineering.

What is your favorite part of your job or a favorite project you have worked on? Why?

There are a number of aspects to my role that I really enjoy. The size and complexity of the projects we work on at Bechtel always create challenges. As a process engineer, we are at the center of the design, particularly in the early, formative stages of the project. Knowing the impact of your decisions and design have a lasting impact to the rest of the project, construction and operation always keeps me motivated and driven to produce the optimal design.

Due to the complexity of the projects, you are constantly learning new knowledge and growing your expertise – whether that be from sitting and working through the issue yourself or learning from in-house experts. I have also had the opportunity to go on international assignments with Bechtel. This has given me the opportunity to work with new colleagues and clients and experience other working cultures across the world. Seeing how your work translates to a tangible output in the field was very satisfying.

What's an engineering accomplishment you are proud of? Why?

Being part of the Hail & Ghasha FEED project is something that stands out for me. The project was huge and required building offshore islands and platforms for drilling / gas processing and a large onshore facility, all connected by an intricate pipeline network. I worked in the offshore team and the fluid we were processing was very high in toxic components, creating many challenges to consider in the design. I was responsible for the offshore process simulation, then moved onto developing process flow diagrams, datasheets, P&IDs, and safety reviews for my area of the design. The project was very challenging both in terms of size and schedule. However, seeing the project through from conception to the end of the FEED whilst delivering on schedule with a high-quality design was something that I was proud to be a part of.

What excites you about the future of engineering?

I think many countries across the world are beginning the process of reducing their fossil fuel dependence and creating alternative energy sources. The energy transition is really starting to gather pace now and having the opportunity to influence and impact projects at the forefront of this change is very exciting. I hope in the next few years we can see some of these projects begin to be constructed and brought into operation. I am also very interested in the strides that being made in the data and automation side of engineering. I believe this will have the ability to transform how we work on engineering projects and ultimately improve the product we are able to offer clients in the future.

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