By Mark Thomas, Hart Energy

The oil and space industries have much in common. Both undertake harsh-environment exploration. Both carry out drilling, cost a stack of money and can be subject to devastating disasters.

But when it comes to how they are portrayed and received by the outside world, the similarity ends right there.

I would hazard a guess that most of us in the upstream sector follow with genuine interest the challenges that our engineering and scientist cousins undertake in the space race and the achievements that are deservedly praised.

I can also speak for most editors when I say the media loves a good headline. The excuse to roll out clichés about the “Red Planet” and “Alien Life on Mars” and write of spacecraft traveling 495 million km (308 million miles) to try landing at 21,000 km per hour (13,000 miles per hour) is just too tempting.

But I’ll wager that the plaudits and congratulatory headlines are also read by most of us with a wry smile. How we envy the good will and admiration that the space industry receives from the media and public alike with so relatively little “PR” effort!

The latest achievement saw the European-Russian ExoMars 2016 mission launch a rocket towards Mars as part of a U.S. $1 billion-plus program to look for methane as potential evidence of microbial life. Part two of the mission, subject to finding enough funding (another similarity it has with us), will in 2018 send a rover capable of drilling up to 2 m (6.6 ft) deep.

The same day back on earth, Shell had its feet firmly on the ground, confirming first oil from Phase 3 of its ultradeepwater Parque das Conchas project. Comprising five wells connected to the Espirito Santo FPSO in the Campos Basin in waters nearly 2 km (1.2 miles) deep, the field sits more than 150 km (90 miles) offshore Brazil.

On the other side of the world less than 24 hours earlier, Eni also confirmed production startup at the world’s northernmost oil platform, Goliat in the Arctic Barents Sea. At an estimated development cost of $5.6 billion, it has been a hugely challenging project in multiple respects. But it is safely onstream and will flow up to 100,000 b/d.

Both these show how our industry is achieving astonishing things on a regular basis to provide heat, light and power for all. But try to find much in the way of public plaudits and you’ll struggle. The positive vibes that gush whenever space achievements are announced vaporize in the heated atmosphere that surrounds the E&P business, judging by my quick orbit around the world of social media–more than 1,000 same-day “retweets” lauding ExoMars’ success vs. a mere handful for Shell and Eni.

We know oil is not sexy. It is what it is. But sometimes this business must wish it had some of that Star Trek factor...

Mark Thomas can be reached at