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19 Posts authored by: Amanda Barlow

It’s been just over a year now since I participated in the “Surviving the Downturn” panel discussions at Pink Petro’s HerWorld17 and it’s taken all this time to get to the point where I can honestly say I have finally survived the downturn!

 

After a 35-year career of being a contract geologist and never being out of work for more than a couple of months between contracts in all that time, I was starting to give up hope that I would ever get the chance to return to my life-long vocation. I tried to stay positive and believe the recovery was inevitable…it was just a matter of “hanging in” there…but hope waned and one day I had a stark realization that I may never be a “geo” again. The thought hit me like a freight train, and after nearly 2 years of being in denial that such a thing could possibly happen, I had to admit to myself that this was now becoming a real possibility.

 

Stacked rigs

 

I have to admit I feel guilty writing about this but too relieved, excited and ecstatic at resuming work as a geologist not to. Guilty because I know there are so many of my colleagues who are still struggling to find work and my writing about finally having a job makes me feel like I’m bragging; it’s almost like a slap in the face to them…I know, I felt that same blow when I’d read someone else’s social media post when they had finally started working again…when my career felt like it was on the edge of a cliff, never knowing if it was going to free-fall off it to an untimely death.

 

Sadly, many of my peers will face this exact demise and will never recover from this downturn. Surely no other industry in the world is as ruthlessly cyclical as the resource industry. Booms and busts that shuffle hundreds of thousands of dedicated workers in and out of employment at the whim of geopolitical and economic events. As night follows day, so does a bust follow a boom, and in an exponentially faster time than what the boom took to build up.

 

Everyone who works in the industry is vulnerable, no matter how far up the food chain you are, whether you are a permanent employee, third-party contractor or independent consultant. For the most part, it seems it all depends on where you are sitting when the music stops. If you are working in exploration then you can expect to be the first to go.

 

While I never expected the downturn to be as protracted as it has turned out to be (and I acknowledge that it’s still continuing today for many people), there were things that I did to help maintain my positivity and optimism for the hopeful resumption of my career. With hindsight I can now appreciate the sometimes small, sometimes big actions I took to keep myself busy, productive and most of all, progressing towards a hopeful outcome.

 

Here are the five most important actions that I consider cannot only keep you “in the game” when you’ve been sidelined, but are great ideas for improving your game once you are even in it!

 

1) Explore your creative side and stay connected

 

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Everyone has a book in them”…well I truly believe this to be the case. Everyone has a story to tell and whether it’s a best seller or not, you will have created something from nothing. You will have successfully shared your knowledge and wisdom with the world and given yourself an ego boost knowing that you are now officially a published author!

 

While the downturn didn’t spark the beginning of my writing career (I had already written and published a book a couple of years before) it gave me the time to expand on it.

 

I knew when the drilling campaign I was working on as a contractor finished in January of 2016 that we were already twelve months into the downturn and things were only going to get worse before they got better. I also knew that no matter how good a wellsite geologist I was, there was next-to-no chance of getting more work in the months ahead. If there are no drilling campaigns then there’s no requirement for wellsite geologists…period. With this in mind, I made every effort from the onset to stay connected, increase my professional network and share my experience with other like-minded professionals within the industry.

 

The idea of writing a book about my career was a means to keep my brain active, highlight my professional skills and demonstrate the depth of my career as a site-based geologist. I knew that publishing relevant and informative information was a great way to staying connected and at the same time, hopefully providing others with some interesting reading material.

 

I enjoyed the writing process so much that I soon wrote a second book about working offshore, in which I shared my experiences and also tried to provide useful information for the next generation of offshore workers.

 

It’s easy to sit back and think “so many people know so much more about a certain topic than me”, which may be true, but it’s also just as true that so many people know a lot less about the topic than you. No matter how little you think you may know about something,

 

 

"there will always be someone else who knows less than you

and would love to know what you know!"

 

 

2) What happens to you in life isn’t “what’s meant to be” but “what you make it to be.”

 

Every single decision we make and action we take changes the course of what we are making our life to be. Unfortunately we can’t take back actions once we have done them so sometimes shit is going to happen that you don’t want to happen. That’s not because it was meant to be…it’s because of the action you took!

 

Actions you take during a downturn are just as important to the success of your career as actions you take when you are gainfully employed. Blaming the industry, the O&G company operators, the old-boys club, the millennials, or even that person from years ago who has always had it in for you, isn’t going to help you get a job.

 

You have to accept the situation for what it is and do what you can to review, re-evaluate, re-educate, and re-establish yourself as the professional you are. Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to set you up on a solid foundation from which to spring yourself back into your career when an opening presents itself.

 

If you find you are struggling then read as many books as you can on staying positive and focused. There’s heaps of them out there and if you haven’t already adapted to reading eBooks instead of expensive printed versions then it’s time to download the kindle app and get started! 

Motivational books

 

 

 

Don’t know what to read? Do a Google search for motivational books and you can be downloading and reading them within minutes on your smart phone.

 

 

 

3) “If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.”

 

The chorus of that old Crosby, Stills and Nash song rings true not only for people but also for jobs. It was only by being an unemployed geologist that I found out that I’m a bloody good Uber driver! If you can’t devote all of your passion to the career you really want, then find another outlet for it. Never settle for less professionalism in any job you do just because it may not be your first preference. And if you can’t find any job at all to expend your passion, then give it away for free as a volunteer.

 

 

4) Channel Your Inner Millennial and Rediscover YouTube

 

Remember when you used to be gainfully employed and there were those few things that always brought out that niggling sense of imposter syndrome? Things that you never felt 100% proficient in but managed to wing your way through anyway?

 

A period of unemployment is the perfect time to hone in on those skills that you think you need to better develop, and the best (and cheapest!) way of doing this is to search for the topic on YouTube and you can bet someone has created an instructional video to help you out.

 

I used to think YouTube was just for young people who were happy to waste countless hours watching ridiculous stunts but since teaching myself how to publish a book on Amazon to honing in on my skills of interpreting well logs, I now have a whole new appreciation for the power of this amazing resource.

 

5) Healthy Body = Healthy Mind and Healthy Spirit

 

It probably comes as no surprise to people who know me that staying active would be a necessary part of my coping strategy. Exercise has always been an essential part of my life and being unemployed definitely wasn’t going to change that. In fact, it became more important than ever to maintain the one thing that I have full control over – my fitness.

 

During a downturn there are many things that are out of your control, like how many rigs are going to be working, what the price of oil is going to do from one day to the next or if the agencies you are registered with are going to win the few job tender processes that are on offer.

 

But the one thing that you have total control over is what you put in your mouth and what exercise you do on a daily basis. Staying fit and healthy is paramount to maintaining a positive attitude and showing everyone that you are ready and able to take on any challenges that present themselves.

 

One of the biggest side effects of being unemployed is the lack of structure and routine it creates on a daily basis. The human body craves routine! Nothing destroys the human psyche more than not having a reason to get out of bed in the morning. A consistent daily routine lays the foundation for essential hormonal functioning that creates the very moods that enable us to stay positive.

 

Your physical wellbeing is intimately linked with your psychological state of mind. Whether you’re smashing out a super-set in the gym or shaving seconds off your 5km PR time, you are creating an accomplishment that no one can take away from you. Doing just one extra repetition on the last set of an exercise, or cutting 1 second off your previous best run time is an achievement worth celebrating. You are now faster or stronger than you were yesterday!

 

Don’t ever think “that’s only 1 second faster so it hardly counts”. Your mind functions in exactly the same way as that of an Olympic athlete and world records are created by being just 1/100”s of a second faster than the previous world record holder. Be jubilant in even the tiniest of improvements because over time, many small achievements add up to a much bigger one. Don’t ever compare your athletic progression to anyone else’s but your own (unless you are an Olympic athlete!) because how better the current “you” is, compared to the old “you”, is all that should matter.

 

Use your extra time at home to develop healthy eating habits and a structured training plan so if nothing else in your life seems to be going to plan at least you’re not having to spend money on doctors bills and medication!

 

 

Did I learn Anything From The Downturn?

 

Absolutely! Here are the biggest takeaways from the downturn for me:

 

  • Always expect a long slow build up to a boom to eventually come crashing down when you least expect it.
  • Don’t spend like you’re always going to be on this day-rate before the crash comes.
  • Know that your colleagues are going to be your competitors in a downturn so expect professional friendships to be tense and most probably uncomfortable.
  • Think seriously about developing an alternative backup career or a stream of passive income should your current one come to a grinding halt.

 

 

 

book coversAmanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the oil and gas industry and also a published author of "Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE - Overview of Offshore Drilling Operations"and “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with Amanda through the Pink Petro community and LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-wsg.

Amanda Barlow

Faces of Energy

Posted by Amanda Barlow Jun 4, 2018

Who are the Faces of Energy?

Who would know…we’ve never been allowed to show them.

 

The only time the industry is ever in the media spotlight is when disasters occur. No wonder the public has such a bad view of us. But why should all the passionate workers be tarred with the same brush as the operating company executives who historically have maintained a cloak and dagger facade of the workplace? A workplace that’s home for half the year, year after year, of fathers, sons, husbands, wives, mothers, sisters and brothers...real people, with real families, working in close-knit teams all around the world.

 

For too long the oil and gas industry has hidden behind a cloak of secrecy that only acts to perpetuate the dark public image it’s historically had.

 

What the industry fails to do

is highlight the individual people who make this industry what it is today…a high-tech, fast-paced, innovative and exciting place to work.

 

 

Using the power of social media to improve the public’s perception of the oil and gas industry

 

Allow photos in the workplace?? Let the outside world in on what it is we actually do on an offshore oil rig?? Surely not! Some companies even have strict terms in their employee contracts that state they are NOT allowed to take photos in the workplace. What sort of companies are so restrictive that they prohibit workers from showing pride in the work that they do and wanting to share it with family and friends?

 

When LinkedIn started with videos, Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn CEO) started a challenge for LinkedIn employees to post a video of themselves. He knew that bringing a personal face to the company would make the public feel like they could trust the online platform with their business. I loved it. It showed people who look just like you and me, ordinary people, showing pride in their workplace and the platform through which they are helping to link people’s professional networks. And the best part was that they were all showcasing something about their personal lives, not what they do at work. It was a chance to show the world their interests and passions outside of work; traits and interests that exhibited their core values.

 

Even the Prime Minister of Australia is now posting selfies on social media, for the same reason the O&G industry should be doing it... to show the human side of his “industry”. We can’t underestimate the effect happy faces can have on public opinion.

 

We need to start finding ways to embrace the power of social media instead of fearing it. It’s here to stay and like every other industry we need to embrace it for the powerful medium it is.

 

How refreshing would it be if our industry gave us that opportunity? The opportunity to share a selfie on the helideck of the facility we work on, or any other intrinsically safe location of a facility, with no fear of repercussions.

 

Why can’t serious work also be fun?

 

While preparing to depart an offshore rig for shore leave one day, I joined some of the people I had been working closely with on the project for a photo under the helideck. Most were local Myanmarese nationals and they were childishly excited about having their photo taken with the Australian wellsite geologist.

 

But it was more than that. I was also proud to be a part of their photo…a photo that summed up the shared knowledge, experience and passion that a diverse workforce brings to a project. It’s a photo that makes me smile every time I look at it because I remember the dedication and respect these people brought to the job I worked on. They were fun to work with. They taught me a lot about the Myanmarese culture and landscape. You don’t get that working in an office in a city. That’s what I love about working in this industry.

 

The excitement and pride these “locals” felt by taking this photo was priceless. Why should we be made to feel guilty about doing this?

 

Obviously some rules need to be followed. No filming of market-sensitive operations is a no-brainer, but why can’t workplaces have dedicated “photo friendly” locations where photos are permitted. But don’t make all the places boring. I challenge companies to come up with novel ideas for allowing their workers to show their pride in their workplace and be allowed to share it through social media outlets.

 

Don’t just say “NO”. This has been the directive for too long because it’s the easy way out. It’s time to show the human side of our industry. Show the incredible diversity of the workforce. No other workplace has such cultural diversity (unfortunately not gender yet) as offshore oil and gas facilities. Show the comraderie. Show off the beauty of the environment in which we work...sunsets and sunrises along ocean horizons and onshore plains.

 

If you are a big company, have a dedicated social media person who can organise responsible dissemination of appropriate work-related photos and videos. Encourage the workforce to show the personal, and the professional, side of the job they do. 

 

Run competitions for the best entries in topics of the month...safety related, career related, following procedures, best sunsets/sunrises, etc.

 

Like all innovative suggestions, there will always be people who will only see the downside of such an initiative. Try to think outside the box and brainstorm creative ways to make it work for your company and workplace.

 

The upside is:

  • Workers having a fun few seconds in their otherwise busy and often physically demanding job. This ultimately leads to a more cohesive workforce through strengthening of morale. Countless studies have shown how exceptional worker morale underpins the safety culture in any workplace.

 

  • Getting the message out that the O & G industry is about people, not just ugly steel structures and stock market prices.

 

  • The world seeing the human side of an industry that has traditionally been a closed door to the public. Being able to share their work life with family and friends makes the work-home gap seem less extreme than what it otherwise would be.

 

The objective is to show the world this industry can, and should be, all about the people who work in it. The industry has forced its workers to be mute for too long and it’s time to change that.

 

It’s time to show the world the

“Faces of Energy”

 

Myanmar DDKG2 Geology Team

 

Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the oil and gas industry and also a published author of "Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE - Overview of Offshore Drilling Operations"and “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with Amanda through the Pink Petro community and LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-wsg.

 

At a recent local WIOG (Women in Oil and Gas) gathering I listened as a panel of four industry diversity champions called for quotas in the industry. While that news was welcomed, it was very disappointing to hear why they were calling for quotas.

 

Despite all the efforts by gender diversity champions within the industry, the reality they all admitted was that there are LESS women working in O & G now than there were 10 years ago.

 

While the companies are doing well at recruiting women in their graduate programs there is an entire demographic of women that are being ignored – the already experienced ones who have worked in the industry, taken a career hiatus to start a family, and then tried to get back into the workforce.

 

Older women who already have prior experience in the industry have more people skills, more experience in workplace safety culture, and a broad range of life skill sets beyond just their professional vocational skills than any graduate, yet they are largely being ignored. If the person doesn’t have just one particular skill then mentor and teach them that skill instead of wasting all their other experience, which they could also be mentoring to other younger workers.

 

There are two main reasons why the statistics are revealing an overall decline in the numbers of women employed in the O & G industry, despite attempts to increase the ranks at the graduate level. These are:

 

1. Thinking you can improve the numbers by introducing quotas only in the graduate programs

 

While companies are boasting about having equal numbers of males and females in their graduate recruitment programs they ignore the fact that after about 10 years many of these females would have left the workforce to start a family. Where does this then leave the “pipeline”? Exactly where we are now, as explained in the WIOG discussion.

 

You can’t just employ 50% female graduates and expect that the numbers will stay at 50% for the lifetime of the company. It’s not that easy. Life gets in the way – and it gets in the way a hell of a lot more for women than it does for men. And lets not forget that each yearly graduate intake accounts for only a very small fraction of the entire workforce within the company. The highest percentage of workers will be employed later in their career so the pipeline needs to be filled along the entire length of it, not just at the start of it.

 

Most graduates are hired with zero practical skills and experience because the companies know they have the knowledge to be able to learn the skills needed very quickly. Why should older and much more experienced women be treated differently??

 

2 . The operating companies don’t include numbers of external workers in their diversity metrics

 

From a workforce perspective, commonly the external workers represents between 30% and 50% of the total direct workforce of large oil and gas companies. And these percentages are likely to grow after each subsequent downturn when large numbers of workers are retrenched but will only be open to opportunities to return to the workforce as contractors because companies are reluctant to put on salary staff again.

 

When the vast majority of upstream workers in their projects are most likely contractors (third party contractors and service providers) these numbers are totally ignored in company statistics - even though it’s the operating companies who directly employ them. The body shops can put forward female workers CV’s but they are ultimately not the ones who employ them on the projects. Only when operating companies recognise that diversity of ALL workers under their control are their responsibility will there be full accountability.

 

As the resource sector continues to turn to an ever-increasing contract labor force, the overall statistics of women working in the industry will continue to decline if this portion of the workforce is ignored and not included in the company metrics. The operating companies are ultimately the ones responsible for procuring the labor, not the service provider companies. The service providers only provide the people the companies specifically ask for. And believe me, these days they are VERY specific. Unfortunately though it’s obviously not in a gender diverse sort of a way because they know they don’t have to show accountability for these workers.

 

As I’ve already mentioned, a high percentage of women will temporarily leave the workforce to start a family and the chances are if they return, they will only be able to find employment as a contract worker. And there the cycle of unaccountability continues. Contract staff doesn’t get a look-in when the gender metrics are reported. There goes the “pipeline”!

 

Conclusion

 

While big corporates continue to deflect responsibility for contract workers, there will be no overall change in the numbers of females in the industry because they will slip through the cracks of accountability. More women need to be employed in both salary and contract positions and those with any experience should be mentored and trained to fill positions that are well within their capabilities, given adequate training.

 

There is a huge untapped resource of highly educated female workers eager to get back into the workforce after having a family but they aren’t given the chance to further develop their skills. It’s time the industry leaders stop the myopic stand they are taking and start employing women over ALL of their operations. It’s time to stop the rhetoric and start REALLY doing something.

 

It’s probably a good time to stop and reflect on the dictionary meaning of rhetoric:

 

rhetoric

ˈrɛtərɪk/

noun

  • language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect, but which is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.

 

 

 

Yes, rhetoric is definitely the right word to use to explain what we are hearing from the big operators. And the panel of four people who admitted the poor numbers of women employed in the industry worldwide were all diversity champions from multinational oil and gas companies. Come on guys…stop playing political games and start putting your money where your rhetoric is.

Cheryl Chartier is a corporate storyteller for Articulus. She’s a career veteran in oil and gas having held senior roles at AMEC Foster Wheeler, NATO and KBR. She joins two-time Emmy award winning journalist and Pink Petro TV anchor, Linda Lorelle to explain how to “build your story”.

  

Cheryl was in the industry for over 20 years, starting off as a mechanical engineer then moving into business development, marketing proposals and big deals. That’s what turned her onto the need for better storytelling.

 

“When we were trying to win business in the industry if we couldn’t tell our story very well we couldn’t win.”

 

Five years ago she left the industry to join the consultancy Articulus as a corporate storyteller who does a lot of work inside the industry to help others learn how to tell their story. Cheryl notes that holistically the industry doesn’t tell its story properly, or even at all, so we find a lot of misinformation out there, and a lot of fake news about the big bad oil which has been around for a long time. Efforts like Pink Petro are leading the way in telling a better story so we can attract and retain the talent, particularly women, who seemed to be turned off by the idea of big bad oil. We need to get better at telling our story and this is one of our biggest problems.

 

Lorelle:

"When you coach some of the companies you work with what’s the first thing you tell them when you’re trying to get them to understand what it means to first of all own their story and secondly, how they go about communicating that story."

 

Cheryl:

"Because the industry is very technical they tend to approach things very technically and logically. They leave out the emotional components that are so important to make the story resonate with people; make the story really get into the peoples hearts. They have to layer the technical information with what’s in it for the audience that they’re talking to, and how they can prove that what they say is true. And how they can give perspective on why these messages are important. So it’s the layering of true storytelling ingredients for persuasion that I work on with the companies.

 

The emotional connection is really what’s going to get people to separate you from the crowd. It’s not necessarily about what you do, but why you do what you do, the passion that you bring to it, and how you can get them to get their return on investment from working with you.

 

For some reason it’s thought we need to remove the emotion from a business like ours and all we need is the logic but the reality is that human beings make decisions based on both logic and emotion, so if we’re constantly trying to strip the emotion out of our messages we paralyze peoples ability to get on board with things and decide if this is where they should go."

 

Story telling in respect to a personal brand

 

Linda:

 “There are a lot of Pink Petro members who are in transition, some are looking for new jobs; some are in a job but not quite where they want to be. Maybe they’re struggling to communicate who they are and what they want to achieve. How does someone go about using storytelling techniques to help advance their career?”

 

Cheryl:

 “I love working with individuals who are trying to work on their brand and find better ways to communicate their brand. One of the first things we do is find the differentiator.”

 

  • What is it about this person and their brand that could stand out? What is the differentiator that makes people want to hear more?
  • Look for the subtle differentiators – things that are unique to them and bring those out in the story.
  • Also add elements of proof and evidence – we don’t want people to just trust what we’re saying but we want to be able to back that up with real evidence.
  • Be kind of scientific about the approach of putting that message together.
  • Then work on authentic delivery because the delivery of the message is so important.
  • Energy, passion, smile – bring emotion to the message.
  • Delivery is so important when you’re trying to win someone on your personal brand.

 

Tactics for overcoming anxiety and nerves when presenting your message

 

Whenever you have a high stakes performance that’s when the anxiety can come on. Ways to avoid anxiety are:

  • Being prepared and practicing
  • Power posing to make you stand tall and imposing
  • Getting ready for this performance

 

"When it comes down to it, everyone is qualified so it comes down to who we want to work with and that’s where storytelling can really help you. That’s what can distinguish the culture, the attitude, the passion, the team, all those things that are the differentiators that go over and above the qualification.”

 

 

How to get that edge over everyone else

 

Learn how to tell a better story. We have the power to get out there now; we have the technology at our fingertips; we have the ability through social media to get out there so we need to take this power on and start telling the other stories. Start telling people through conversations; start telling them through social media; tell the story of how we can be part of the solution not part of the problems within the industry.

 

The industry has always been afraid to tell its story externally, with layers and layers of communication, getting things approved before you communicate anything externally.

 

There has to be a story out there that’s compelling enough to entice people to want to come into the industry. Is the industry good for women? Women are hearing it’s not a good place to work but there’s a lot of stories as to why that is not true.

 

Cheryl’s take home message

 

“The industry empowered me to be a Mom and a career woman and I had lots of good opportunities and good choices and if I don’t tell that story then others don’t know. There’s so much richness in how we can drive the diversity that Pink Petro’s all about and we can use these platforms that we have available to us. By getting out there ourselves we help everyone get engaged by solving these problems, not just complaining about them.”

An offshore oil rig is one of the few workplaces in the world where cultural diversity is the norm rather than the exception. Technically referred to as Mobile Offshore Drilling Units (MODU), these facilities roam the oceans and seas around every continent and fly in a workforce from all around the world.

 

Highly specialized professionals and tradespeople whose skills are specific to the offshore drilling industry perform most of the work on the rigs. These people are sourced from oil and gas hubs around the world with long-haul flights being the standard means of transportation to get work.

 

Regardless of where any rig is drilling, there will most probably be people from the following countries working on it at any one time: US, UK, Brazil, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, The Philippines, Indonesia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Norway, Middle Eastern countries and France. And these are just the majority of nationalities; there will be many other nationalities also represented.

 

Where this workplace differs from those onshore is in the fact that all these people still live in, and travel from, their country of origin. While most large cities these days boast very multi-national workforces, the people there now all live in the same city where they work. While they may originate from countries all around the world, they now socialize in the same circles so their cultural differences get somewhat watered down in order to conform to some socially acceptable norm of the host nation.

 

To draw an analogy you would have to imagine a city office block where 200 people from up to 20 different countries fly into the office from their homes around the world, work for 28 days straight, live and sleep at the office, eat all meals in a cafeteria at the office and then fly back to their homeland at the end of the month. That would be crazy, right? Well that’s exactly what happens offshore. You really can’t compare it to any other job.

 

Understanding, appreciating and being sensitive to cultural differences is a key quality all offshore workers must possess. Everyone on board must work as a team. Everyone has a specific job to do or they wouldn’t be there. There are no freeloaders offshore. With bed space being critical, only essential personnel are flown onto the facility.

 

At times it can be frustrating. Out on the deck everyone works to a common standard but in the accommodation it can be a different story. I’ve come to realise that western cultures are overly fussy when it comes to housekeeping and food. We are so demanding and expect everyone to comply with our standards of living. When there are people working on the rigs who come from countries where everyone has traditionally squated over a toilet rather than sitting on it, or where they don’t have sliced bread as a staple part of their diet, you have to expect that standards may be “different” (as opposed to “lower”) than what you’re used to. Patience and understanding is key to establishing and maintaining a harmonious workplace.

 

Let me walk you through an average day working offshore so you can appreciate the cultural diversity we live and work with. I will give all times without reference to am or pm because it honestly doesn’t matter when you’re working offshore. Shift work is part and parcel of the job and a great majority of the workers alternate between day shift and night shift. The times of these shifts can also change as there can be a “6 to 6” shift or a “12 to 12” shift. As my role always works “6 to 6” this is what I’ll report on.

 

3 o’clock

Arrive in the gym for a workout. Some days I do just cardio, others I do just weight training, some days I do both. Sometimes I’m the only person in the gym but most of the time I share it with the rig’s electrical supervisor. He resides in the north of England and commutes to the rig, which is currently offshore from Myanmar, on a 28-day rotation. The gym is fairly small but has loads of equipment and is very functional. Out-of-work time is precious so once we got the initial introduction over and done with during my first week on the rig we don’t usually do much talking – just training. After all, gym training is serious business!

 

5 o’clock

After an hour in the gym and time back in my cabin having a shower and getting ready for work I head to the mess (dining hall) for “breakfast”. Unfortunately if you’re on night shift your breakfast may be a roast dinner so cereal is quite often the best choice.

 

The galley crews, like the cleaners, are mostly Myanmar nationals who have been employed to work for the catering company that services the rig. Most of them only speak minimal English but they all understand the meaning of “thank-you” and “have a great day!” Like eating when at home, meal times are a time for social interaction although most of the time the conversation is purely work-related and serves more as a time to get briefed on operations that happened while you were sleeping. There can be up to 20 people or more grabbing a quick feed before work and most of them won’t be native Australians like me; in fact most of the time I would be the only Aussie in the room.

 

5:30

It’s time for the pre-shift meeting (formally known as the “pre-tour”), which every person on board has to attend before each shift. The rig safety coordinator holds the meeting. I’m not quite sure about his accent so only guessing that he could be from either South Africa or maybe Scandinavia… or anywhere in-between! His name, Johann, is a hint but not a strong enough one for me to figure out his home country.

 

Once the safety guy gives his update on safety issues he hands over to the other heads of departments who systematically give a brief run-down on events that have been carried out by their department on the previous shift and more importantly what they will be doing in the coming shift.

 

The mechanical department head is a heavily accented Scottish guy. The Scottish brogue is quite common on this rig. He hands over to the electrical department guy who also happens to be the English guy I trained with in the gym earlier. The marine crew is also represented by a Scottish guy and he passes the baton to the marine electrical engineering spokesperson who is a lady from Chennai, India, who looks like a Bollywood movie star…and I mean that in the most complimentary of ways…definitely breaking the mould of rig engineer stereotypes!

 

Once everyone from the different departments has had their say, it’s time for the Company Man (Wellsite Manager) to give a run down on current operations. With this drilling campaign being done by an Australian oil and gas company it’s no surprise that the operator representatives mostly reside in Perth, Australia. After the Aussie has his say, there’s a final message from the Captain/Offshore Installation Manager who is from Romania…where else?!

 

6 o’clock

With the pre-tour taking around 20 minutes it’s time to head to the “office” and handover with my back-to-back who has been working the opposite 12-hour shift to me. The two other wellsite geologists on this campaign are a Serbian and a Filipino, both of whom now reside in Australia.

 

6:30

A third-party meeting is held at 6:30 am and pm so all the supervisors can brief everyone on operations to be performed throughout the coming shift. With so many simultaneous operations being performed at any one time on the rig it’s essential everyone knows what’s happening and how it can possibly impact their work. The meeting starts off with the company man giving a run-down on current operations and then he goes around the room so everyone can report on what they will be doing and if they need any help from anyone. This meeting is attended by the following supervisors or company representatives:

 

The Mud Engineer: The dayshift guy is Scottish and resides in Glasgow. The nightshift is covered by a Chinese guy who has a very heavy accent and is quietly spoken so you have to listen very carefully to try and understand what he’s saying. Like many of the rig workers, the more you communicate with them the easier you’re able to understand their heavily-accented English.

 

The Cementer: Picture a young Will Smith with a Jamaican accent and you’ll paint a fairly accurate image of this guy. Turns out he’s from Trinidad but that Caribbean accent is captivating to say the least. Unfortunately his turn to speak is over and done with all too soon. His back-to-back is a Spanish guy who now lives in South America and his accent as just as intriguing as the Trinidadians. The cementers are my top picks in the awesome accent stakes.

 

The ROV operator: The remotely operated vehicle crew has a big part to play in the monitoring of the drilling operations. The lead guy on this shift is an African-American from Louisiana, USA, and he just happens to be a fellow gym junkie. Our conversations never fail to end up being a post-mortem of our last workout in the gym and how we both are on the same page with our training regime. Oh, and his accent (and personality) is pretty cool too!

 

MWD and Directional Drilling Engineers: These guys operate the measurement-while-drilling (MWD – downhole survey) and logging-while-drilling (LWD – formation evaluation) tools that are in the toolstring behind the bit down the hole. Most of the team comes from Myanmar but there is also a Thai and an Australian directional driller. While they all speak English, some are more difficult to understand than others.

 

Mudloggers: The mudloggers monitor the well and drilling parameters and it is their job to identify anything out of the ordinary with all the monitored parameters. They also collect the drilled samples for the geologist and deliver all the recorded data for the well. The team will usually consist of 2 data engineers, 2 mudloggers and 2 sample catchers. Out of the 6 people working in the unit on this hitch, four of them have the first name Aung. They are nearly all from Myanmar. It seems that Aung is a very common name in Myanmar. It certainly makes it easy for me to remember everyone’s name! I think it’s fair to say they would have to be one of the most gracious and easy-going races on the planet.

 

Deck Supervisor: With everything on the rig being too heavy to lift manually, crane lifts are an essential part of the job. The deck supervisor is in charge of coordinating all the lifts for everyone on the rig so they have the tools they need, when they need them. Because the rig had worked offshore from India for several years prior to this current drilling campaign most of the lower and middle ranked drilling and deck crew are from India. The deck supervisors are also from India.

 

Once the 6:30 third-party meeting is over it’s business as usual on the rig. Other rig personnel include the drillers and tool pushers, some of who come from the USA, India, Scotland and England. There are no Australians anywhere near the drillfloor on this rig. Quite a few of the marine crew are from Scotland and the dynamic position operators (DPO’s) are mostly Indian.

 

That just about covers all the major nationalities that are represented on the rig but there’s always many other less common ones from around the globe coming and going from the rig. The location of the rig, and from what country the operating company is based, has a big influence on the make-up of the personnel. While the language of the rig is English there are many accents that make for interesting listening in daily meetings.

 

It’s not just the language variations that make for an interesting workplace. There are also many different religions and cultures represented, and with that comes acceptance of their respective practices. With many of the workers on board being Muslims, they were going through Ramadan on my last hitch so the galley crew prepared special meal times for these people so they could have breakfast before the sun came up. While there was no call to prayer over the rig PA system I suspect that was probably done in private regardless.

 

Despite all the variations in language, religion and culture the rig still operates at an exceptionally high productivity level and has an extremely good safety record. Being respectful to everybody’s personal needs does not need to compromise productivity and safety when it's an accepted way of living. Working on a rig calls on the expertise of specialists from all around the world and it serves as a model for the rest of the world to see how being an inclusive workplace can add value to the experience for everyone.

 

Now, getting back to that office job in the city where everyone lives in the same city…no thanks, give me the true multi-cultural experience of offshore rig life any day!

 

 

 

 

An Inconvenient Life  3D CoverAmanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry and also a published author of "Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE - Overview of Offshore Drilling Operations" and “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. She is also a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries and is the author of “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle”, an account of her participation in one of the worlds most extreme multi-stage endurance events. You can connect with Amanda through the Pink Petro community, LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-wsg or through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife

Amanda Barlow

Back To The Grind

Posted by Amanda Barlow Jul 12, 2017

The best part about working offshore for me is the travel and exploring new parts of the world - for some that may be the worst part of the job! I like to think of my travel days as a mini break…a break from home…a break from work… a break from electronic connectivity. A time to slow down and read for the fun of it or catch up on writing projects (like I am now!) or just to meditate, daydream, fantasize…anything you never make the time for in your busy life at home or at work. The transition from “break time” at home to “work time” on the rig can be brutal so it’s nice to have a day of disconnect between the two.

 

With my job as a wellsite geologist, I may not even have the option to study up on wellsite operations that I’ll be walking into because working mainly in exploration means we quite often don’t even get briefed on the status of the operations due to strict “tight hole” status. This means that any news on the drilling operations can be market sensitive and therefore the dissemination of all operational information is strictly controlled. Sort of like being involved in a big expensive secret mission in the middle of some exotic sea that only specially trained people can fly to…ok, now I’m fantasising :-)

 

The travel day to the rig at the start of your hitch has a totally different vibe to the travel day on your way home, after spending up to 28 days on the rig. When I’m travelling to work, I feel a mixture of excitement and also dread, knowing that I could be working for up to 28 days on the rig, 12+ hours every day and this is my last day of “freedom” for a while. But there’s also the fun part of catching up with work mates again…and of course not having to do any cooking or cleaning for the next few weeks!

 

It’s always a bonus if you get to overnight at a nice hotel the night before you fly out to the rig. One last taste of comfort – and beer - before the hard work begins. 

 

Novotel Bed

 

It’s generally an early start on fly-in day and this hitch was to be no exception. A 4:30 am pick-up at the hotel for a 5:00 am check-in at the airport is a sure sign the holiday is over. Despite the early check-in, our helicopter wasn’t due to depart until 7:30 am so we had a long boring wait in the terminal without any electronic devices to keep us entertained. By this stage all of our belongings are checked in for the flight and the only thing you’re allowed to keep with you in the cabin of the chopper is a soft-covered book or magazine. It pays to remember to take one with you because delays can happen and you can find yourself with hours to kill in a boring departure lounge.

 

With all the waiting over, the eight incoming crew members were led out to the tarmac and boarded a bus that took us to the helicopter. We geared up in our life vests and hearing protection and boarded the chopper for the 2.5 hour trip to the rig. The life vests contain emergency breathing apparatus so are very heavy on one side which makes them lopsided and awkward to wear. The straps are always hard to adjust so I fumbled trying to get it tight enough to feel snug around my waist, although I doubted they were made to fit a waist my size! I was reassured by the addition of a crotch strap that meant even if the waist strap was loose then the crotch strap would ensure the life vest wouldn’t float off me once inflated.

 

Being wet season, the payloads of the aircraft are kept to a minimum so we were warned to have only one bag of maximum 12 kg. Even with the restricted payloads the chopper still made a fuel stop at Kcaow Pyuy (pronounced Chow Pew) airport to ensure it had enough fuel in case of delays or diversions during the remaining flight to the rig.

 

Kcaow Pyuy is on the western coast of Myanmar and is the closest airport to where the rig was drilling offshore. We were directed into a waiting room just off the tarmac where we waited for about 15 minutes while they re-fuelled the helicopter. It had taken about 1 hr 50 min to get to Kcaow Pyuy and it would be another 30 minutes flying time to get to the rig, finally arriving at 10:00 am.

 

It was my first time on this particular rig and it was by far the biggest I have been on. Being a dual derrick 6th generation drillship meant it was heavily staffed by not only drilling crew but also a dedicated marine crew who were responsible for the running and maintenance of the ship. I was to be one of only 4 women on board out of a total POB (persons on board) of 198.

 

While the layout of the rig was very similar to the previous drillship I had worked on, it was probably about 15% bigger, which equated to a lot more stairs to climb. From the lowest deck (where the gym was located) to the top of the helideck there were 10 levels within the accommodation block. After a brief spiel on the status of the current operations by the OIM (Offshore Installation Manager) and the WSM (Wellsite Manager) it was time for a quick Cook’s Tour and induction of the rig. The important things like where your cabin is, where your office is and the location of your emergency lifeboat are all covered in this quick walk-around. Being the first of the wellsite geologists on the rig for this current phase of the operations meant I had no-one to greet me so all I had for a guide was a copy of some handover notes that had been emailed to me by the last WSG who was on-board for the previous well.

 

I was happy to learn there was a dedicated room for the wellsite geologists so for now I would have the 2-man room to myself. Being the first geologist on board meant I got to secure the bottom bunk for myself…always a great start to your hitch.

 

bunks

 

The cabin was spacious although as is typical of all offshore accommodation, they provide a locker for your gear that has no shelves in it so 80% of the space is wasted. Obviously the people who design the rigs have never worked and lived on one of them so have no idea how ridiculously frustrating it is to live out of a locker that has 80% unusable space in it. Added to this design fault is usually a small square mirror on the inside of the door that is positioned at least a foot above my head height, but I was happy to see the mirror in this locker was not only bigger than usual, but also at a height where I could actually see myself. Although this was a good thing, it was soon offset by the fact that the door had no way of securing the hinge in an open position so the door was free to swing closed with every roll of the ship. You just have to get used to tying your hair up with both hands and balancing on one foot while you use the other foot to hold the locker door open. It’s a life skill most women never have the need, or opportunity, to acquire so I considered myself lucky to be given this opportunity. Where else can you get an ab workout while doing your hair?

 

locker

 

 

The ensuite bathroom also proved to be a bit annoying with no shower curtain in it to prevent the water from covering the rest of the small room when you had a shower. I tried to explain to a passing cleaner that I had no shower curtain but he didn’t speak English so I couldn’t get the message across to him. I thought maybe all the rooms were like this so put up with it for the first day. Feeling very exposed while having a shower, I couldn’t help but be reminded of an incident I had read about a year earlier where a rig was found to have hidden cameras in one of the women’s rooms, positioned covertly in hanging hooks on the wall. I suspiciously scrutinised the towel hooks on the back of the door for any signs of camera lenses but was satisfied I probably wasn’t being spied on.

 

The bunk bed was very comfortable and I had no problems falling to sleep at the end of the day. Unfortunately though the sleep was short-lived when I was awoken by a fire alarm. I was pretty sure it wasn’t a drill so waited for the announcement to be made on what course of action we were to follow before getting out of my comfy bed. I was praying it was a false alarm so I could go straight back to sleep. The first announcement to follow said the alarm was being investigated and everyone was to standby for further instructions so I was hoping that meant we wouldn’t have to muster straight away, if at all. After a few minutes the announcement was made that it was a false alarm and no action was required…yay, I could go back to sleep!

 

Getting into a routine quickly is important to me so I set my alarm for an early start so I could get a workout done in the gym before starting my shift the next day. I hadn’t actually been shown the gym on my induction tour so I was hoping to be able to find it OK. Like on many rigs, the gym was on the lower most deck which meant it was below the water line. To make it even more interesting you had to access it through an hydraulically-driven water-tight door that was alarmed and had a red flashing light while it slowly opened and closed. Before entering the area you had to call the bridge to let them know you would be going through the water-tight door. These doors can be operated remotely from the bridge and in the event of an emergency they could be opened or closed automatically without warning. The blaring alarm and flashing light was almost enough to put me off entering but not training in the mornings isn’t an option so I persevered.

 

The gym was well equipped, despite only being a fairly small room. There were three TV screens mounted on the walls and a table with a supply of bottled water and paper towels. Two doors at the back of the room led to a toilet and a sauna room. For the next hour I was in my happy place and my daily routine of train-work-eat-sleep had begun.

 

DDKG2 gym

 

Due to it being monsoon season, the rig was moving quite a bit so training in the gym was extra challenging. My run on the treadmill turned into a hill interval session whether I wanted it to be or not. Managing the free weights also posed an extra degree of difficulty as the heaving motion of the ship either increased or decreased the effective weight you were pressing/pulling with unpredictable timing. It all added to the weirdness that comes with doing a workout in the bowels of a ship at 3 am in the morning before starting work at 4:30 am.

 

For the next few days I would be the only wellsite geologist on board so I wanted to touch base with people to find out what had been happening overnight before I had to deliver my morning reports. The first of the meetings is at 5:30 am with a pre-work meeting for everyone starting shift at 6:00 am. That usually goes for about 20 minutes and then at 6:30 am there’s another 20-30 minute meeting for the third-party supervisors to discuss operations for the shift ahead. Then at 08:00 am there is a phone conference with the drilling operations people in the Perth and Yangon offices. In-between all these meetings I had to send reports to the operations geologist who I report to in town. Normally when I’m on day shift and there is another geologist doing the night shift I wouldn’t need to attend any further meetings but because there was no night shift geo I wanted to attend the 6:30 pm third party meeting also, just in case any operations anyone was doing overnight impacted me. By the time that meeting was over at about 7:00 pm I was ready for bed so I could get enough sleep before starting it all over again the next day.

 

Another priority when you get to a rig for the first time is to check out the availability of Wi-Fi. While it is prohibited to take your mobile phones outside of the accommodation block, there is generally a Wi-Fi network within the accommodation area so you can stay in touch with the outside world while on the rig. The network is always very slow and many sites have access banned, such as gaming and pornography websites. You always want to make sure you have any apps you want downloaded at home before you leave because large data downloads are virtually impossible. Be prepared to only see the text on your Facebook feed as the photos take several minutes to load.

 

The rig is offshore from Myanmar with a lot of the drilling and marine crew coming from India, where the rig had previously been working for a few years. Many of the third party personnel are from Myanmar, as are the catering and cleaning crews. There’s also quite a few Scottish and English crew members as well as Australians who work either directly for the operating oil and gas company or are contracted to it (as I am). Although that covers the larger number of personnel, there are also many other nationalities represented from all around the world. You couldn’t find a more culturally diverse workforce at any other worksite in the world, I’m sure. Many of the lower skilled workers speak no, or little, English so there is a Myanmarese interpreter on board at all times.

 

Returning back to the long days of work on the rig after being out of work for 15 months was surprisingly easy to adjust to and within a couple of days I felt like I’d never been away. Once you get that long, first day on the rig done and your first decent night’s sleep it’s back to business as usual.

 

This particular rig had been working almost continually since the boom so most people working on it had not been impacted to the degree I had in the current downturn. Although most would inevitably had a reduction in their pay rate, they were still to experience the threat of a possible long-term unemployment situation. Despite this, it is still a possibility that it could happen after this contract finishes so everyone is very aware of the precariousness of their jobs. It’s a very uncertain future for all of us and it’s virtually all everyone talks about. I have no way of knowing how long this hitch will be or if I’ll be lucky enough to secure more after this one…I’m hoping I will be.

 

 

*****************

 

 

Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE 3D book coverAmanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry and also a published author of "Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE - Overview of Offshore Drilling Operations" and “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. She is also a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries and is the author of “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle”, an account of her participation in one of the worlds most extreme multi-stage endurance events. You can connect with Amanda through the Pink Petro community, LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-wsg or through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife

After 15 long months of no work and no income I finally got the message that I’d almost given up all hope of ever receiving..."You'll be flying out to the rig either this Wednesday or next Wednesday!"

 

There's barely enough adjectives to describe the feelings it evoked as I read it. The initial reaction was utter surprise; disbelief; can this be for real? Then the adrenaline kicked in and cautious excitement took over. I broke into a nervous smile while standing all alone in the new home I had recently moved to. I felt too scared to move in case this moment wasn't real and the text message vanished into the thin air from where it came. 

 

There had been recent communications hinting that it might happen but I never let myself get optimistic about the prospect of going back to work as a wellsite geologist any time soon...if in fact, ever...because I knew there were just no jobs out there. Over the past year I had read so many social media posts/blogs/articles written by geologists who felt they had been “abandoned by the industry” and while that was how the job situation made you feel, the reality was that there just weren’t any jobs out there. Working predominantly in exploration drilling, wellsite geologists, and others involved in the upstream drilling operations, have been severely affected by the downturn.

 

More text messages and emails soon followed with further instructions about my travel arrangements to the rig; people I had to contact, visa documents that needed filling out, mobilisation details to clarify. I was still reluctant to get too excited for fear of jinxing myself or getting too comfortable with the possibility that my luck had finally changed. 

 

As the emails started to come in and the cc list of recipients grew I started to let myself believe this might actually be going to happen...recruitment agency operations manager, operations geologist, overseas onshore logistics specialist, offshore logistics coordinator, travel agent...they all wanted my help in getting the process moving as quickly as possible. After replying to the flurry of emails I took a deep breath and finally allowed myself to accept this was really going to happen.

 

This could have been happening to some other wellsite geologist anywhere around the world but it wasn't, it was happening to me...finally!! I wanted to yell it from the treetops, pop a bottle of champagne...but I didn't have one, nor could I afford one! 

 

It was time to start letting my family and friends know that I was "back". I knew they would probably be even more relieved than I was, knowing they no longer had to tip toe around the subject of me earning no money. The first person I sent a message to was my harshest critic but still a faithful supporter (if only maybe out of familial duty), my driller son. He was almost due to return home from a hitch on a rig himself and replied with the candor and back-to-earth practicalities that I would fully expect from him:

 

"Good luck. Bout fkn time. You gonna be home on Thursday to pick me up from the airport?"

 

I translated that to mean he was happy for me...he's never been one for gushing affection, as you'd expect from a second-generation driller. He may not have been quite as excited about the news as I was but I knew he would have been equally as relieved to know I was finally going back to work and earning money.

 

And just like that I was heading back to a rig within a week. No job application process, no interview, just an almost-random message out of the blue to say I was needed on the rig. Although I knew it might just be a one-off 3-week hitch it still felt like I was finally back in the fray…my knowledge and experience was about to matter once again…I wasn’t “abandoned” any longer.

 

Touching down in Yangon

 

As the Singapore Airlines plane touched down at Yangon International Airport, Myanmar, where I would be getting the chopper out to the rig the next morning, I couldn’t help thinking how good it was to be back. I knew it was just a small step but it was one that at least gave me some hope that things might start to improve from here. It’s the first sign I’d had of that in over a year so I was grateful for even getting as far as mobilising to a rig. At the very least I had already just clocked up one day of travel pay! 

 

 

Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry and also a published author of "Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE - Overview of Offshore Drilling Operations" and  “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. 

Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE

 

She is also a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries and is the author of “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle”, an account of her participation in one of the worlds most extreme multi-stage endurance events.

 

You can connect with Amanda through the Pink Petro community, LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-wsg or through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife

launch article banner

 

After receiving thousands of views on the series of articles about working offshore, the Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE articles have now been compiled into a convenient book format.

 

Working on an offshore drilling rig is something most people will never get to experience in their lifetime. It is like no other workplace in the world and only those who have worked offshore can appreciate the diversity of people, cultures and roles that are represented in their remote “office”.

 

Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE is an overview of what it’s like to work on an oil rig, and the role everyone plays in getting the job done safely and on time. The saying “Time is Money” is the mantra that everyone works to offshore with wells costing up to one hundred million dollars to drill. With such big money at stake it’s easy to see why it is such a high-pressured environment to work in.

 

This handy guide can serve as a pre-deployment induction manual for all new starters in the industry so they know what to expect when they get to a rig for the first time. There are lots of rules and regulations when working offshore and knowing what to expect before you disembark from the chopper that very first time will help make your introduction to the industry that much easier.

 

For people wanting to get into the industry, this book explains the many roles that can be explored; from an entry-level no-experience-needed role to those that are highly specialized and found nowhere else in the world. This hi-tech and fast-paced industry has something to offer anyone looking for a challenging career beyond the 9 to 5 grind of city life.

 

This book is also an informative guide for family or friends of offshore workers who up until now have had no idea what their loved ones actually do when they are at work…and also for those who already work offshore and have no idea what the rest of the people on the rig actually do!

 

You can order it here on Amazon.com and download it directly to your Kindle reader.

 

3d book cover

The book is also available in print format – either in economical black and white, or if you like color pictures then it’s also available for a limited time in a full color version on Amazon.com

 

There’s also a handy iBook version that you can download from the iBook store and read on your smart phone while you’re driving – or flying – to work!

 

Any comments or feedback are welcomed and if your company finds it useful as a pre-deployment induction manual for new starters then it’s possible to custom design it to suit your company’s needs. Please contact the author for further details.

 

 

 

Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry with a field-based geology career spanning over three decades. As well as being a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries she is also a published author of two books: “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle” and also “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with her through the Pink Petro community, Linkedin https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-21a08b22 or through her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife

Part 10

 

With this being the final article in the Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE series, I thought it a good idea to list all the roles that will have been covered in the 10-part series. This is by no means an exhaustive list of everyone you are likely to find working on an offshore drilling rig but they are the key roles that you will always find on every rig. There are many more specialists that work in offshore drilling operations but they are too numerous to mention in the scope of these articles.

 

 

table

 

This article will cover the key personnel who are the operating oil and gas company’s representatives on the rig during drilling operations. Some may be salaried employees of the energy company while others will be contracted specialists who report directly to the operating company. We’ll start with the head honcho of the offshore operations, the Company Man (Wellsite Manager), and work our way down the pay scale – which is not an indication of level of responsibility or workload but rather the higher degree of specialization required to perform the role. Please don’t quote me on this order though, because pay scales differ considerably from one contract to another and depending on boom or bust times in the industry. Some of these people (if they are lucky enough to still have a job) would possibly be on 50% less now (February 2017) than what they were getting paid in February 2015.

 

COMPANY MAN/WELLSITE MANAGER

 

The company man, or more commonly used these days is the title wellsite manager (WSM), is the point of contact on the rig for the operating company. He has absolute responsibility over all personnel, financial, technical and performance aspects of the drilling program and the rig being contracted to carry it out. Nothing is supposed to get done on the rig without the company man knowing about it. If any well control barriers are compromised in any way, he needs to know about it immediately. It’s pretty fair to assume that whenever you hear the company man being paged over the rigs PA system by a supervisor, shit has probably just hit the fan somewhere on the rig!

 

All major drilling decisions moving forward of any point in the program will generally be made in consultation with the drilling superintendent in the head office onshore and any specialists required, but ultimately any immediate action responses are the responsibility of the company man.

 

There will always be a dayshift company man and nightshift company man with the day company man being the most senior of the two. If there are any major changes to the plan, or emergency situations arise overnight then the night company man will wake the day company man to brief him on what has happened and get advice on how he wants the situation to be handled. While the day WSM will spend most of his shift sitting in front of a computer or on conference calls in the office, the night WSM will spend more time on the drillfloor or in the doghouse overseeing the drilling operations. One of the two will always be present on the drillfloor during critical well control operations and also during cementing operations because of the process safety implications of the procedure.

 

Wellsite managers come from a variety of backgrounds but one thing is for sure – they have usually all lived and breathed offshore oilfield all their lives and have done the hard yards to get where they are. The two most common career paths are via the roughneck-driller-toolpusher route or the drilling engineer route. Occasionally you’ll come across a WSM that started out as a geologist or some other profession but it’s more likely they used to be a driller or a drilling engineer. The longer and harder their career progression then the more respect they generally earn from the crew under their command. A “young” ex-drilling engineer who has never worked outside an air-conditioned office will never earn quite the same level of respect as that given to an old driller who has spent 30-40 years of his life “on the tools” and sweating it out over decades of hard yakka on a rig.

 

The “day” WSM will nearly always have had to earn his stripes by first working as a “night” WSM. They are two very distinct positions. With nearly every other role on a rig the dayshift and nightshift crew interchange with each other but this is generally not the case with the company man, except in unusual circumstances.

 

The day WSM will quite often be a salaried employee of the operating company and be heavily involved in the planning and preparation stages of the drilling campaign back in the office, long before a rig is ever mobilised to the drilling location. He needs to know every stage of the drilling plan and know what all the other workers on the rig are meant to be doing at all stages of the operation. Many company men would have worked a wide variety of offshore drilling roles throughout their career and be very familiar with many of the specialist operations. The night guy will commonly be a contracted worker.

 

The day WSM is one of the few people who generally get their own cabin. The night WSM sometimes has his own room also but more often would share with the logistics guy, or someone else who only works dayshift. With space being a premium on any rig, all 2-man cabins generally house a dayshift person and a nightshift person so they are always likely to have a room to themselves while off-tour.

 

DRILLING ENGINEER

 

The drilling engineer is the company man’s eyes and ears on the rig. He will generally spend a lot of time in the doghouse with the driller and toolpusher and physically oversee all aspects of the well operations so he can report back to the WSM. There is generally only one drilling engineer on the rig at any one time, working on dayshift (0600-1800hrs) unless operations otherwise dictate.

 

Other duties the Drilling Engineer is responsible for include (but definitely not limited to): 

  • Closely monitoring day-to-day operations and reporting back all findings and observations to the WSM.
  • Collecting and analyzing data relating to all stages of the drilling operations.
  • Performing, recording and disseminating results of “after action reviews” after all key stages of the operation.
  • Keeping track of all costs accrued through the drilling of the well.
  • Working closely with all on-site specialists in order to keep up-to-date on all developments that may have an impact on drilling activities.
  • Making sure that drilling operations comply with statutory and regulatory requirements, with respect to health and safety, emergency procedures and disaster recovery.
  • Continually revising and updating the forward plan and projected timings of the well operations so the logistics coordinator and third-party service providers can accurately prepare equipment in a timely manner.

 

Drilling engineers will generally have completed some sort of engineering degree prior to being employed by an oil and gas company. Initial training and development is primarily facilitated through graduate development schemes, which involve gaining hands-on work experience through multiple rotations offshore and in-house training sessions. Career progression is mainly driven by individual performance, professional expertise and attainment of professional qualifications.

 

WELLSITE GEOLOGIST (WSG)

 

The wellsite geologist is the source of all operational geological information on the rig and is responsible for all geology related administrative wellsite activity. They are the exploration department’s eyes and ears on the rig and as such, have to make sure that all possible geological and drilling information is gathered in a concise and timely manner. While the WSG works in close cooperation with the company man on the rig he is not actually under his authority. Instead, the WSG reports directly to the “Operations Geologist” who is the “shore based” intermediary between the geologist on the rig and the geology team in town who will be analyzing all the data. The unusual chain of command for disseminating key official geological data from the wellsite geologist follows this line of reporting:

 

WSG (rig) => Operations Geologist (town) => Drilling Superintendent (town) => Company Man (rig)

 

While the wellsite geologist is required to immediately notify the company man of any pertinent drilling and geological information, the company man generally cannot act on the information until the town-based drilling superintendent has officially confirmed it. The WSG will report all key geological and drilling data to the operations geologist immediately as it comes to hand. It is then the responsibility of the “ops geo” to disseminate this information to all members of the onshore geology and drilling teams who need to know the information for decision-making. All key drilling decisions are made in collaboration with every department involved in the drilling of the well to ensure that well control barrier criteria are met and any decisions made will not compromise the integrity of the well or process safety systems.

 

At commencement of drilling, when the well will be drilled “riserless” with no cuttings coming to surface, there will often only be one WSG on the rig. There may be two or even three casing strings run before the riser is finally run and drilled cuttings are brought to the surface. The WSG will be needed during these stages of drilling to confirm that suitable geological formations have been intersected in order to successfully set casing. This task is commonly referred to as “calling casing point”. It is critical that the casing shoe for the conductor and surface casing is set deep enough to withstand pressure from a “kicking” formation further down. Surface casing is run to prevent caving of weak formations that are encountered at shallow depths. The WSG needs to identify when a competent formation is intersected to ensure that the formation at the casing shoe will not fracture at high hydrostatic pressure, which may be encountered later in the drilling of the well. Because there are no drilled cuttings coming to surface all geological data is interpreted from one, or a combination of both, of the following sources:

  • Drilling parameters such as ROP and torque when there are no LWD (Logging While Drilling) tools in the BHA (Bottom Hole Assembly).
  • Real time Gamma Ray and/or Resistivity data from downhole LWD tools.

 

Once the surface casing has been set and the BOP and riser are run to the seabed, all drilled cuttings will then be circulated to the surface, which means the days get a whole lot busier for the WSG. From this stage on there will generally be two WSG’s operating back-to-back 12-hour shifts.

 

Responsibilities

As the acting representative for the operating company’s geology team, the wellsite geologist will have the following responsibilities:

  • Evaluating offset data before the start of drilling
  • Analyzing, evaluating and describing formations while drilling, using cuttings, gas, formation evaluation measurement while drilling (FEMWD) and wireline data
  • Comparing data gathered during drilling with predictions made at the exploration stage;
  • Advising on drilling hazards and drilling bit optimisation
  • Making decisions about suspending or continuing drilling. Ultimately, it’s the wellsite geologist’s responsibility to decide when drilling should be suspended or stopped.
  • Advising operations personnel both on the rig and in the onshore operations office about any pertinent geological or drilling information as it arises.
  • Supervising mudlogging, MWD/LWD and wireline services personnel and monitoring quality control in relation to these services.
  • Keeping detailed records, writing reports, completing daily, weekly and post-well reporting logs and sending these to appropriate departments.
  • Maintaining up-to-date knowledge of LWD and MWD tools and status of all equipment onboard and in transit to make sure the equipment is available and in working order when it is needed.

 

In expected HPHT (high pressure high temperature) wells it is critical the WSG can identify (and immediately communicate) any identifying signs of increases in pore pressure. These can include the following telltale signs:

  • Changes in flow rate and active mud system volumes. If the formation pressure becomes higher than the hydrostatic pressure being exerted by the circulating drilling fluid then the mud will become “underbalanced” and the well will “kick”. If this kick isn’t detected early enough then a catastrophic blowout could occur.
  • Presence of “cavings” coming over the shakers. When drilling over-pressured shales, it is common for the formation to undergo stress relief causing chips of rocks to cave from the borehole wall. These overpressure “cavings” tend to be larger than normal cuttings and may be concave or propeller shaped.
  • Increase in ROP (rate of penetration) and volume of cuttings. A pressure transition zone will make drilling easier because of the trapped water reducing compaction and the increase in pore pressure reducing differential pressure, allowing cuttings to be released more easily into the mud stream.
  • Changes in LWD data, in particular resistivity and sonic, density and neutron.
  • Changes in drilling parameters, especially torque, drag and overpull. This can be due to deterioration of borehole integrity causing an increase in volume of cuttings and cavings in the circulating mud.
  • Rise in background gas level, changes in the composition of the gas, or presence of “connection” gas, which is a result of swabbing downhole hole when the pumps are turned off to make a connection (add another stand of drillpipe).
  • Changes in pump pressure. An influx of gas into a well may reduce the density of the drilling fluid and therefore it will require less pressure to circulate the drilling fluid.
  • Change in properties of mud.
  • Changes in downhole temperature. Generally there will be slight decrease in temperature immediately above the over-pressured zone and then a steady increase with depth at a higher rate than in the normally pressured zone above.

 

If the wellsite geologist identifies any potentially hazardous changes in the drilling, the driller and company man must be notified immediately, and then the operations geologist will be notified. If a potentially dangerous situation is recognized then the drilling will be stopped immediately while the company man either makes a decision on what to do next or waits for official instructions from the drilling superintendent in town on how to proceed.

 

The wellsite geologists spend most of their time working in the mudlogging unit (like the hardworking one in the photo below!), which is where all the monitoring equipment for the rig is located and also where the mudloggers/sample catchers will deliver the cuttings samples for them to inspect and describe. All rock cuttings are inspected under a microscope and a detailed description written for every sample that is generally collected in composite 5, 10 or 20 m intervals.

 

WSG

 

Cuttings Descriptions

The cuttings descriptions need to be very detailed and follow an industry standard format that includes (but is not restricted to) the following observations:

  •  Rock types and percentage of each found in the sample
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Grain or crystal size
  • Sphericity, roundness and sorting of sandstone grains
  • Type of cement and/or matrix
  • Any fossils or accessory minerals
  • Presence of hydrocarbon indications, such as fluorescence or “show”
  • Estimate of porosity

 

cuttings

 

A detailed well log is created combining all the cuttings information, LWD and MWD data and drilling parameter data, and submitted along with a daily report every 24 hours. When the WSG finishes the shift and hands over to the next shift they have to have all of the reporting and samples descriptions up-to-date at the time of them handing over.

  

To become a wellsite geologist, you’ll need a degree in geology or possibly even chemistry, geochemistry or geophysics. There is no formal wellsite geologist qualification, but you would need to obtain knowledge in areas such as wellsite and offshore safety management, wellsite operations, formation evaluation of wireline, FEWD logs, and risk assessment before starting as a WSG. Most WSG’s start their offshore career working as a mudlogger, MWD engineer or mud engineer and gain knowledge in the fields that a WSG is responsible for. They also need to possess supervisory skills, the ability to work well under pressure and the ability to quickly make decisions.

 

As most wellsite geologists work as independent consultants and are employed on a contracting basis, it’s up to them to handle their own career progression. Any wellsite geologists who progress beyond this position will generally move into an operations geologist role, with a few even moving up into company man positions.

 

While a wellsite geologist might earn a lot per day there is little job security, and quite often no permanent rotation. They may only get flown onto the rig the day before drilling operations begin and flown off again immediately after the well is completed or wireline logging is completed. The date of your arrival and departure is quite often only known within days of it occurring so long term social commitments are impossible to plan. You can either expect to have to fly out to the rig at very short notice or have unplanned months without any work…or even years, as the case is for many now!

 

DRILLING FLUIDS (MUD) ENGINEER

 

The drilling fluids engineer, who is most commonly referred to as the mud engineer, or just the mud man, is the person responsible for ensuring the drilling fluid properties are within designed specifications.

 

The drilling fluid (mud) is a vital part of drilling operations and has the following functions:

  • Provides hydrostatic pressure on the borehole wall to prevent uncontrolled production of reservoir fluids.
  • Lubricates and cools the drill bit
  • Carries the drill cuttings up to the surface
  • Forms a "filter-cake" on the borehole wall to prevent drilling fluid invasion into the formation
  • Provides an information medium for well logging
  • Helps the drilling by fracturing the rock from the jets in the bit.

 

One of the most important mud properties is the mud weight (density). If the mud weight exceeds the fracture pressure of the formation, the formation may fracture and large quantities of mud can be lost to it, in a situation referred to as lost circulation. If the mud weight is too low it will have a hydrostatic pressure that is less than the formation pressure. This will cause pressurized fluid in the formation to flow into the wellbore and make its way to the surface. This is referred to as a formation "kick" and can lead to a potentially deadly blowout if the invading fluid reaches the surface uncontrolled.

 

To maximize the effectiveness of these tasks, the mud contains carefully chosen additives to control its chemical and rheological properties. For the technically minded, the drilling mud is usually a shear thinning non-Newtonian fluid of variable viscosity. When it is under more shear, such as in the pipe to the bit and through the bit nozzles, viscosity is lower which reduces pumping-power requirements. When returning to the surface through the annulus it is under less shear stress and becomes more viscous, and hence better able to carry the rock cuttings. Bentonite is commonly used as an additive to control and maintain viscosity, and also has the additional benefit of forming a mud-cake (also known as a filter cake) on the borehole wall, preventing fluid invasion into the formation.

Barite is commonly used to increase the mud weight to maintain adequate hydrostatic pressure downhole in order to avoid a kick and ultimately a blowout from uncontrolled production of formation fluids. The mud pits at the surface have their levels carefully monitored, since an increase in the mud level indicates a kick is taking place, and may require shutting in the well and circulating heavier weighted drilling mud to prevent further formation fluid or gas production. The drilling mud must be chemically compatible with the formations being drilled; in particular the salinity must be chosen so as not to cause clay swelling or other problems. Offshore rigs typically use synthetic oil-based mud although water-based mud is also sometimes used.

 

Prior to drilling a well, a mud program will be worked out according to the expected geology, in which products to be used, concentrations of those products, and fluid specifications at different depths are all predetermined. As the hole is drilled and gets deeper, more mud is required, and the mud engineer is responsible for making sure that the new mud to be added is made up to the required specifications. The chemical composition of the mud will be designed so as to stabilize the hole.

 

As drilling proceeds, the mud engineer will get information from other service providers such as the mudlogger about progress through the geological zones, and will make regular physical and chemical checks on the drilling mud. The viscosity and density are frequently checked. As drilling proceeds, the mud tends to accumulate small particles of the rocks that are being drilled through, and its properties change. It is the job of the mud engineer to specify additives to correct these changes, or to partially or wholly replace the mud when necessary.

 

Mud engineers come from a varied background, with many having no formal tertiary qualification but rather have had offshore drilling experience within one of the many other roles found on an offshore drilling rig. It’s common to find mudloggers with a geology background transferring into the higher-paid role of the mud engineer.

 

Prior to working on his own, the junior mud engineer will have attended a special training course and will spend time working with a senior mud engineer to gain experience. The least experienced mud engineer will commonly work permanently on nightshift with the experienced mud man working days so he can communicate with the company man and onshore drilling support team. The derrickman and roughnecks are assigned to help the mud man whenever he needs assistance with altering the mud properties or any other pit-related work. With the mud being one of the key process safety barriers in the drilling process the mud engineers are always kept busy monitoring it.

 

Drilling fluids operations are often contracted to service companies, with the largest four companies for mud services being M-I SWACO (A Schlumberger Company), Baroid Drilling Fluids (Halliburton Oilfield Services), Baker Hughes Drilling Fluids, and Weatherford International Drilling Fluids.

 

HEALTH, SAFETY & ENVIRONMENTAL COORDINATOR (HSEC)

 

Many offshore drilling operations will have a HSE representative within the drilling contractor crew (commonly referred to as the Rig Safety and Training Coordinator or RSTC) and also the operating company will have their own health and safety representatives. There may be a nightshift and dayshift or just the one person who works mostly dayshift, except when needed if there is a safety incident overnight. They can be either an employee of the operating oil and gas company or a contract worker.

 

The responsibility of the HSE coordinators is to ensure that all tasks on the rig are completed in accordance with company and regulatory requirements by using approved procedures and permits.

Safety reps normally come from quite varied backgrounds, with many having worked other roles within the drilling industry or sometimes even come from a military background. A background as a rig worker is most advantageous because they would then have a competent knowledge of the tasks performed on the rig as well as all the equipment being used. This knowledge would make investigations and report writing of incidents a lot easier.

 

As well as the unofficial duties as the rig psychologist, auditor, mentor, deckhand, and personal problem advisor, the HSE coordinator also has to fulfill the following official tasks:

  • Monitor the safe operation of all workers on the rig
  • Participate in key project management activities e.g. HAZIDs and HAZOPs
  • Provide management system documentation development and implementation
  • Incident investigation
  • OHS auditing
  • Conduct weekly safety meetings and disseminate incident investigation findings from other areas within the industry

 

With the industry becoming increasingly heavily regulated the safety rep will be kept busy filling in paperwork and completing safety audits in between investigating incidents and report writing. He will also quite often work out of an office that is close to the company man’s office and has a coffee machine, so it’s the obvious place to kill time while waiting for the morning meetings to start.

 

DRILLING LOGISTICS COORDINATOR (DLC)

 

The last role to be covered in this series of articles is the drilling (and materials) logistics coordinator. The DLC is responsible for coordination of all materials, personnel movements and logistics support for the rigs operations. Key responsibilities are:

  • Liaise with key personnel for timely provision of personnel, services, equipment and materials
  • Liaise with key onshore supply operations personnel for the load-out and back-load of equipment and materials
  • Coordinate storage, maintenance, record keeping and reporting of all the company's and contractor equipment on the rig.

 

The DLC will commonly work out of the same office as the company man, or close to it, so he can communicate all material and people movements and current state of operations in order to provide timely logistics advice to service providers and rig crew. There is generally only one onboard at any one time, working dayshift hours unless otherwise needed.

 

A background in rig operations through either working as a member of the drilling or deck crew, or as a service provider is advantageous, as they will need to know the name of, and be able to identify every part needed on the rig. Their backgrounds are generally quite varied, as it is not a position that requires a formal certification.

 

final photo

 

**********

 

That concludes this series of articles, and while it was by no means an exhaustive list of roles performed in offshore drilling operations it covered the main ones. I hope you have a better understanding now of the main roles performed in offshore drilling operations and the people who carry them out.

 

You can find the rest of the series of articles in Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8 and Part 9. A compilation of all parts of the series will soon be available in a paperback and eBook format. Watch this space for further details!

 

book cover 

 

Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry with a field-based geology career spanning over three decades. As well as being a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries she is also a published author of two books: “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle” and also “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with her through the Pink Petro community, LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-21a08b22 or through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife

 

launching ROV

 

Offshore oil and gas drilling rigs are a melting pot of races, cultures, professions and 21st century technology. While the general perception is that of grease-covered workers throwing tongs around the drillfloor, the reality is much different. With every minute of the day having to be accounted for in daily reports and converted into monetary costs, it’s no wonder only highly trained specialists are employed to undertake the myriad of roles performed in offshore drilling operations. Everyone on board the vessel works as a team to support the drilling operations and to make sure the well is drilled safely, and on time. Rig operations can cost up to (or even more than) $1 million dollars a day, which breaks down to up to $1,000 per minute for every minute of the 24-hour operations. This means that every minute of the day has to be accounted for and non-productive time (NPT) is not an option – well, it can be an option but you’ll have a lot of explaining and arse-covering to do!

 

Routine testing and preventative maintenance are a huge component of the tasks performed by all offshore drilling contractors because when the time comes for their equipment to be used in the drilling operation they can’t be causing delays by not having fully operational equipment. Before any equipment goes “down the hole” it has to be fully tested, strapped (external dimensions measured) and drifted (internal measurements measured) to ensure compliance with very strict operational tolerances. Errors in calculations or faulty equipment can cost millions of dollars in lost productive time. Getting something wrong can see you with a one-way ticket on the next chopper!

 

I want to highlight a major difference between the salaried rig crew (although in the downturn this is now also true of the rig crew) and the third-party service providers (contractors). The contractors are regarded as dispensable – if you stuff up, you’re generally out on your first strike. There’s no soft-touch HR department on the rig that holds your hand and says: “Ohhh, we’ll give you another chance”…if you want that treatment then you’re in the wrong place! Go back to a cruisy 9 to 5 job in the city where managers aren’t allowed to hurt your feelings…you’re not going to get that out here. And if you can’t work 12-hour shifts for 28 days straight then you’re also in big trouble. Twelve hours are a MINIMUM shift; during critical times of the drilling operations it’s common to be “on-tour” for up to 15 hours or longer (with written approval) and if things are busy/bad enough that you have to do overtime then you can bet you won’t have time for meal breaks during that shift either.

 

And if the work schedule isn’t enough to put you off, then be aware that the contractors are also given the shittiest rooms on the rig, which may even mean sharing a 4-man room with people who all work different shifts so your sleep gets disturbed every time someone enters the room. It pays to learn to sleep with ear plugs in your ears because the shittiest rooms are always on the lowest level in the accommodation block and generally positioned over the pump room, the engine room or the anchor chain winches…or a combination of all three because on a small rig there’s no escaping all of these! I’m not going to sugarcoat the jobs out there – the work and lifestyle can be tough and new-starters need to know this before they embark on a career offshore.

 

I’ll go through the most common contractor jobs that are performed on the rig but there are many others that I won’t have time to mention in this series of articles. These are the main ones that are pretty well always a part of the standard operations.

 

 Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Operators

 

ROVs are tethered, unoccupied, highly maneuverable remotely operated underwater vehicles, which are operated by a crew aboard the rig. They are linked to the rig by a load-carrying umbilical cable, which is used along with a tether management system (TMS). The TMS is either a garage-like device, which contains the ROV during lowering through the splash zone or, on larger work-class ROVs, a separate assembly that sits on top of the ROV. The purpose of the TMS is to lengthen and shorten the tether so the effect of cable drag where there are underwater currents is minimized. The umbilical cable is an armored cable that contains a group of electrical conductors and fiber optics that carry electric power, video, and data signals between the operator and the TMS. The TMS then relays the signals and power for the ROV down the tether cable. Once at the ROV, the electric power is distributed between the components of the ROV. However, in high-power applications, most of the electric power drives a high-power electric motor, which drives a hydraulic pump. The pump is then used for propulsion and to power equipment such as torque tools and manipulator arms where electric motors would be too difficult to implement subsea. Most ROVs are equipped with at least a video camera and lights. Additional equipment is commonly added to expand the vehicle’s capabilities. These may include sonars, magnetometers, a manipulator or cutting arm, water samplers, and instruments that measure water clarity, water temperature, water density, sound velocity, light penetration, and temperature.

 

The ROV has a wide range of capabilities that include:

Pre-spud surveying of the seabed and underwater acoustic positioning systems

Overseeing conductor cementing and wellhead installation operations

Assisting with landing of the BOP on the wellhead

BOP intervention by acting as an additional safeguard for operating emergency well shut-in procedures via the Blowout Preventer Actuating Tool (BOP-AT)

Daily surveys to establish the integrity of all subsea components of the drilling operations, namely the riser, LMRP, BOP and wellhead.

Daily checks of “bullseyes” on the wellhead and BOP to ensure there is no displacement from vertical of the seabed structures.

 

ROV at BOP

 

ROVs are commonplace on all rigs these days, especially in deepwater drilling. With exploration moving into water depths beyond that which can be usefully achieved by divers, the ROV becomes an increasingly important tool. Almost all ROV personnel are employed directly by ROV operators or contractors. There are a number of large internationally based ROV survey companies as well as many smaller operations.

 

A team comprising ROV pilots and technicians operates the ROV units. While both positions require certification in Hyperbaric Operations specific to operating ROV’s offshore, flying an ROV competently is not the only skill required of a pilot. ROVs are highly complex mechatronic (robotic) devices and working offshore in remote locations means assistance by qualified factory trained technicians is unavailable. It is advantageous for the ROV pilot to hold appropriate technical and practical skills because they will have to be responsible for onsite repair and maintenance of the ROV unit under their care. A qualification in one (or more) of the following nationally recognized trade skills (with post training employment) are considered to be essential pre-requisite qualifications for entry into an ROV training course: Electronics, Hydraulics, Electrical and Mechanical. Tertiary qualifications in an appropriate discipline, and significant relevant industrial experience may also help your chances of securing a spot in an offshore ROV team once your certification course has been completed.

 

The ROV team consists of at least two, but quite commonly three, personnel on each dayshift and nightshift. They will work out of a unit on the deck close to where the ROV docking station is located. The atmosphere inside the ROV unit is quite unlike any other office on the rig, with serene underwater vistas showing on all the computer screens. In shallow waters there can be quite an aquarium affect showing on their monitors, especially in tropical waters. Added to this, there’s usually a coffee-making machine, stereo and mood lighting – all essential elements of the ROV experience!

  

Casing and Cementing Operators

 

While the drill crew is in charge of drilling the actual well, specialist casing and cementing crews perform the running and cementing of the casing strings after each section has been drilled.

 

The well is drilled in stages whereby it is drilled to a certain depth, cased and cemented, and then the well is drilled to a deeper depth, cased and cemented again, and so on. Each time the well is cased, a smaller diameter casing is used. The widest type of casing is called conductor pipe, and it is usually about 30 to 42 inches in diameter. The next size in casing string is the surface casing, which can run several thousand feet in length. Intermediate casing is then run to separate challenging areas or problem zones, including areas of high pressure or lost circulation. The last type of casing string that is run into the well, and therefore the smallest in diameter, is the production casing, which is run directly into the expected reservoir zone. In an effort to save money, sometimes a liner string is run into the well instead of a casing string. While a liner string is very similar to casing string in that it is made up of separate joints of tubing, the liner string is not run the complete length of the well. A liner string is hung in the well by a liner hanger, and then cemented into place.

 

casing diagram

 

Casing is run from the rig floor, connected one joint at a time by casing elevators on the traveling block and stabbed into the previous casing string that has been inserted into the well. Hanging above the drill floor, casing tongs screw each casing joint to the casing string.

Casing is run into the well and officially landed when the weight of the casing string is transferred to the casing hangers, which are located at the top of the well and use slips or threads to suspend the casing in the well.

 

casing RIH

 

A rounded section of pipe with an open hole on the end, a guide shoe is connected to the first casing string to guide the casing crew in running the casing into the well. Additionally, the outside of the casing has spring-like centralizers attached to them to help position the casing string in the center of the well.

A cement slurry is then pumped into the well and allowed to harden to permanently fix the casing in place. After the cement has hardened, the bottom of the well is drilled out, and the completion process continues.

 

c using and drilling sequence

 

While the casing hands and cementers receive assistance from the drill crew when needed, these specialists will oversee all the technical aspects of the job. As you may have seen in the “Deepwater Horizon” movie, the cementing jobs are a critical part of the process safety systems of the well and the integrity of the cement bond is crucial to the safe operation of all the procedures that follow. This step in the drilling program is so critical that the company man will personally oversee the operation every step of the way to ensure total compliance with procedures and expected outcomes. The lessons learnt from the Deepwater Horizon incident show the importance of overlooking psychological bias when interpreting cement integrity well tests. The investigation into this disaster highlighted how easy it is to skew the evidence in favour of what you want the outcome to be, despite evidence indicating otherwise.

 

The cementing and casing programs on all offshore wells are highly technical and very detailed. They are created through a collaboration of onshore teams in the drilling department and the specialist companies that are contracted to provide the service. Every step of the process is captured in computer monitoring systems on the rig and this data is interrogated by both offshore and onshore personnel to ensure the strict procedures set out in the well plan are being followed.

 

Detailed well plans are drawn up in advance of the drilling of wells being commenced and they have to be signed off and approved by many departments and regulatory departments. By law, these plans have to be followed exactly as detailed, as they will be based on “best practice” and strict safety requirements. If for any reason these plans need to be changed, based on changes encountered during the drilling process that were not considered when preparing the well plan, then there needs to be a “Management of Change” document prepared. This “MoC” then needs to get approval from the highest levels in both the oil and gas companies and the third-party service providers so everyone agrees that the changes can be made without compromising the safety of the well. The cost in delays while waiting for approval can quickly add up to the millions of dollars so any deviation from “the plan” places a lot of stress on the people involved in the operation.

 

One last point that should be made about the casing hands and cementers is that they are advised to take out a good supply of books or movies to the rig with them. As both jobs are only performed at certain times during the drilling process, both crews are on stand-by on the rig waiting for their turn to shine. If the drilling process suffers no setbacks or delays then the casing and cementing operations will be quite fast-paced. However, quite often there are setbacks or delays that can take days, or even weeks, to resolve so the casing and cementing personnel have nothing more to do but check, and recheck, their equipment for all of this time.

 

 Well Testing Engineers

 

If hydrocarbon zones are intersected while drilling an offshore well there is likely to be a series of well tests carried out to evaluate the reservoir potential. The overall objective is to identify the reservoir's capacity to produce hydrocarbons. Test objectives will change throughout the different phases of a reservoir or oil field, from the exploration phase of wildcat and appraisal wells, through the field development phase and finally through the production phase, which may also have variations from the initial period of production to improved recovery by the end of the field lifecycle time.

 

The main objective in the exploration phase is to assess the size of a reservoir and state with a given certainty whether it has the properties for commercial exploitation and shall contribute to accounting for available reserves. Well testing taking place before permanent well completion is referred to as drill stem testing (DST). A DST is a procedure for isolating and testing the pressure, permeability and productive capacity of a geological formation during the drilling of a well. The test is an important measurement of pressure behavior at the drill stem and is a valuable way of obtaining information on the formation fluid and establishing whether a well has found a commercial hydrocarbon reservoir.

 

In a drill stem test, the drill bit is removed and replaced with the DST tool and devices are inflated above and below the section to be tested. These devices are known as packers and are used to make a seal between the borehole wall and the drill pipe, isolating the region of interest. A valve is opened, reducing the pressure in the drill stem to surface pressure, causing fluid to flow out of the packed-off formation and up to the surface.

 

There are two distinct phases of the DST’s and that is the “flowing” phase and the “shut in” phase.

During the flowing phase in exploration and appraisal wells the following information is gathered:

  •  Confirmation of discovery and productivity
  • Volumetric flow behavior and rate
  • Clean-up and rate measurement
  • Hydrocarbon properties and characteristics of the reservoir
  • Pressure
  • Gas oil ratio
  • Collection of large volume fluid samples both down hole and at the surface
  • Testing of sand production

 

During the “shut-in” phase, which will commonly contain at least two “pressure build up” tests, the following data can be established:

  •  Well and reservoir performance (skin, permeability, initial pressure, heterogeneity and boundaries)
  • Reservoir connectivity and proven volume
  • Flow behavior around the well bore

 

The following YouTube videos demonstrate the DST procedure both in open holes and cased holes. I am in no way endorsing Expro here but they had a very good video explaining the process, for which they deserve some credit.

 

DST open hole testing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpuiyXDYUkY

DST cased hole testing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saWFV26UmcQhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saWFV26UmcQ

 

well testing

 

Due to the hydrocarbons being brought to the surface there will always be a flare burning during testing operations. The flare boom will either be off to the side or the back of the rig with water deluge systems suppressing the enormous amount of heat this flare generates.

 

Well testing engineers and technicians come from a varied background of experience in mechanical, electrical, petroleum or reservoir engineering or trade skills. Like many of the third party service providers, well testing technicians often start off in the offshore industry as roustabouts and then train in specialty fields. Well testing crews don’t generally have a permanent rotation on a rig because they are only needed at the end of the drilling of the wells so they are flown in only as they are needed. They will be scheduled to arrive on the rig several days prior to the expected completion of drilling so they can set up and test their gear before starting the DST operations.

 

Flaring always presents a great photo opportunity for rig workers who are starved of allowable larrikin antics.

 

flaring butt

 

While there are many other third-party service providers that work in offshore drilling operations it’s impossible to cover them all within the scope of these articles. The ones I’ve mentioned are the most common and generally always present in all drilling operations.

 

There’s just one more key group of contractors that work on the rig that’s of vital importance and that is the accommodation and catering crew. While they are third-party contractors they are actually employed by the drilling contractor and as such, they report directly to the OIM.

 

Catering Contractors

 

For people working offshore, a hot meal, a clean bed and freshly laundered work wear are essential comforts. With everyone working a minimum of 12-hour shifts every day it takes a very well structured support system to make sure everyone is adequately fed and has a clean room to sleep in at the end of the working day.

 

Some drilling contractors employ their own catering crew while many outsource the tasks to third-party catering companies. The standard that is expected is to have all cabins and bathrooms serviced daily, which nearly always includes having your bed made for you, and clean towels provided. Because of the lack of living space, and strict baggage restrictions for all personnel flying to a rig, everybody’s clothes are laundered daily to minimize the amount of clothing required. During the boom times there were usually added extras like lifestyle coaches and personal trainers making regular visits to the rig but that service disappeared once the price of oil started to drop.

 

The quality of meals is extremely variable, depending on the rig and location around the world. You can expect to have the cuisine of whatever country you are drilling in so this can vary from American food if you’re in the Gulf of Mexico, British food if you’re in the North Sea, Indian food if you are in many SE Asian regions, or any number of other variations. Being unskilled laborers, the catering and cleaning crew will be sourced from the closest port to where the rig is drilling.

 

With crew changes occurring on a daily basis, and bed space usually filled to capacity, it is necessary to have dayshift and nightshift cleaners, as well as cooks. These are generally entry-level jobs that require no experience although many of the people have experience in similar roles at onshore mining camps or similarly serviced remote work sites. While the large international contracting service providers tend to have a gender-balanced workforce these days, it’s still rare (in my experience) to see any women working these roles on rigs that use their own catering and cleaning crews. Some habits are hard to break!

 

While on the gender issue, it’s probably worth noting that there are generally very few women working on offshore drilling rigs. The roles that are most likely to have females represented are catering, mudloggers and MWD. I have, on many occasions, been the only female on the rig out of a POB of up to 180. While it’s rare to be the ONLY woman on board, it does occur from time to time, but generally there will be a few scattered around the facility in different roles. You generally won’t see more than half a dozen women working on a rig out of 120 to 180 workers on board. More than likely it will only be two or three.

 

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With all the drilling contractor crews and third-party service providers now covered, it just leaves the oil and gas company’s representatives to cover in the final part of Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE. Part 10 will explore the main roles carried out by these oil and gas professionals and what it takes to be part of the team. Stay tuned!

 

If you have only just tuned into “Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE” then you can find the rest of the series of articles here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8.

 

 

 

Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry with a field-based geology career spanning over three decades. As well as being a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries she is also a published author of two books: “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle” and also “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with her through the Pink Petro community, LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-21a08b22 or through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife

Part 8

 

The third party service providers make up about half of the workforce on an offshore rig. With so many hi-tech and specialized operations being performed at all stages of the drilling operations it’s imperative that experts in their field perform these tasks. The first group of people we’ll look at are the “mudloggers” who’s job it is to monitor the drilling operations from the time they “spud” the well to the time they secure the well after drilling and testing has been completed.

 

Mudloggers

 

“Mudlogger” is the generic term used to describe the field specialists who monitor the well and also collect samples for the geologist. The career progression for a “mudlogger” is to generally start as a sample catcher while they learn about the drilling operations, then progress to a mudlogger and with further experience, become a data engineer.

 

Sample Catchers

Dedicated sample catchers aren’t always part of the team but they often get “thrown in” as a complimentary part of the mudlogging services. They don’t need to have any prior experience in working offshore or as a mudlogger, so it’s a very good entry level job and is generally the starting position for graduate geologists who wish to work offshore. Although you don’t need to be a geologist to be a sample catcher, most of them will be and will go on to get trained as a mudlogger.

 

Sample catching is without a doubt the least glamorous and lowest paid of all jobs on the rig…but you have to start somewhere! The role of a sample catcher is to provide the most basic geological data acquisition on the rig and to assist with all general activities when possible. The main duties of the sample catcher are:

  •  Ensure that representative geologic samples are caught throughout the drilling or reaming phases of the well program. This is done by collecting cuttings (drilled rock) samples, from the proper “lagged” (explained below) depths and at the proper intervals as required for evaluation. These samples are collected off the shale shakers, screened and washed, divided into correct portions, and packed into sets for the Client, partners and government agencies. They may also have to assist in core recovery and packaging as required.
  •  Prepare a clean “cuttings” sample on a sample tray for the wellsite geologist and mudlogger, who will then examine it under the microscope and describe the lithology of the drilled formation.
  •  Assist mudloggers and data engineers to perform regular and frequent calibration checks of instruments, perform normal routine maintenance of sensors and other equipment and also assist logging crew with rig-up/rig-down procedures.

 

shale shaker

 

The sample catcher reports directly to the mudlogging crew who will ensure his duties are performed correctly. This may include on-the-job training as required. They work out of the mudlogging unit, which is always close to the shale shakers and these are generally one or two levels below the drillfloor. The shale shakers are vibrating screens that separate the drilling fluid from the drilled rock cuttings. The “shaker house” is a very noisy place and double hearing protection must always be worn. There will be multiple shakers to accommodate the large volume of cuttings that can be produced when the drilling rate of penetration is high (i.e. they are drilling fast!). It’s a very “dirty” job and multiple layers of personal protective equipment need to be worn to prevent skin contact with the drilling mud, which can cause serious skin inflammation.

 

Mudloggers and Data Engineers (DE)

Mudloggers and data engineers are responsible for gathering, processing and monitoring information pertaining to drilling operations. They don’t only collect data using specialist data acquisition techniques – they also collect oil samples and detect gases using state-of-the-art equipment.

The information amassed by these guys is analyzed, logged and then communicated to the team that is responsible for the physical drilling of the well. Without the help of the mudlogger, the drilling operations would be less efficient, less cost-effective and much more dangerous. The mudlogger is vital for preventing hazardous situations, such as well blowouts. They also provide vital assistance to wellsite geologists and write detailed reports based on the data that is collected. Being an entry-level position, employees will be given a mixture of ‘on-the-job’ training and expert in-house training courses, which cover different aspects of drilling operations. A major part of the training will focus on the use of specialist computer software.

 

Typically, you will need a degree in geology to start a career as a mudlogger. However, candidates with degrees in physics, geochemistry, chemistry, environmental geoscience, maths or engineering may also be accepted.

 

Along with the sample catchers and data engineers, the mudloggers work out of the muddlogging unit, which is a pressurized sea container-type of office, which is positioned close to the drillfloor and shaker house. The unit will have an air-lock compartment when you first enter it so as to maintain the positive pressure within the unit whenever somebody leaves or enters the unit. This is the main control room for monitoring the drilling operations and is full of sophisticated and delicate equipment and computer systems. Positive pressure needs to be maintained to ensure the air pressure inside the container is higher than that of the outside area to prevent contamination of sensitive monitoring equipment – and also to ensure the safety of the crew working inside the unit should the outside air become contaminated through uncontrolled releases of hydrocarbons from the well.

 

mudlogging unit

 

One of the most important tasks of the mudlogger is to oversee the collection of not only geological samples but also mud and gas samples from the well during drilling operations. To be able to do this accurately they have to know the exact “lag time” (or “bottoms-up time”) that it will take for the drilled cuttings or mud and gas to arrive at the surface after being drilled and circulated up the outside of the drillhole (annulus) while suspended in the drilling mud. The lag time may be a few minutes in a shallow hole or as much as several hours in deep wells with low mud flow rates. To be able to work this time out accurately there are many factors that have to be taken into consideration. The lag time depends on:

  • the annular volume fluid
  • flow rate, which in turn require knowledge of:
  • dimensions (internal diameter (ID) and outside diameter (OD)) of surface equipment, drill string tubulars and casing and riser.
  • mud pump output per stroke, pumping rate and efficiency.

 

While the computer’s software will work this out automatically, the calculated value may be incorrect however, if the operator has entered erroneous or incomplete values for the pipe or hole dimensions, or if the hole is badly washed out. This has to be monitored very carefully to avoid catching mud, gas and cuttings samples at incorrect depths.

 

Sensors

The mudloggers and DE’s monitor the drilling operations via a series of sensors that are placed at various locations around the drillfloor, pit room and shaker house. The main drilling and mud parameters that are recorded are: hook movement, weight on hook, standpipe pressure, wellhead pressure, rotary torque, pump strokes, RPM, mud pit levels, mud density, mud temperature, mud resistivity and mud flow. These parameters are monitored in real time and any deviances from the expected normal values must be immediately reported to the driller. The DE will view and monitor all the drilling parameters on a screen as shown below.

 

mud logger drilling screen

 

The five most important monitoring tasks that the mudlogger and DE must watch out for are:

  • Rate of penetration increase, which could indicate they have drilled into a reservoir formation
  • Mud pit volume gain or loss, which could indicate the well is taking a kick, or losing fluid into the formation
  • Mud flow rate change
  • Mud density variation
  • Indication of oil or gas.

 

The mudlogging unit is a very confined workplace and there may be up to several people working in there at any one time, especially if it’s a “combo” unit, which houses the mudloggers, MWD engineers and possibly also the directional driller. Generally the same service provider company performs all of these roles so it is quite common for data engineers to progress into a role as an LWD/MWD engineer. Other common career progressions for mudloggers/data engineers are as a wellsite geologist or drilling fluids engineer (mud engineer).

 

crew change in ML unit

 

The complete list of responsibilities of the mudloggers is too exhaustive to detail in this article but the above-mentioned roles are the main ones. Like most jobs on the rig, daily reports are a big part of the data engineer’s responsibilities. The mudloggers report directly to the wellsite geologist, who is generally working in the mudlogging unit alongside them. Because the mudloggers are required to monitor the drilling operations from the commencement of drilling they will always be employed on a permanent rotating roster, which is generally 4-weeks on, 4-weeks off.

 

 

MWD / LWD Engineers and Directional Drillers

 

The terms Measurement While Drilling (MWD), and Logging While Drilling (LWD) are not used consistently throughout the industry. Although, these terms are related, the term MWD refers to directional-drilling measurements, while LWD refers to measurements concerning the geological formation made while drilling (also referred to as Formation Evaluation While Drilling (FEWD)).

 

Measurement While Drilling (MWD)

MWD typically concerns measurement taken of the wellbore inclination from vertical, and also magnetic direction from north. Using basic trigonometry, a three-dimensional plot of the path of the well can be produced. Essentially, an MWD engineer measures the trajectory of the hole as it is drilled (for example, data updates arrive and are processed every few seconds or faster). This information is then used to drill in a pre-planned direction into the formation, which contains the oil, gas, water or condensate.

 

An MWD downhole tool is also "high-sided" with the bottom hole drilling assembly, enabling the wellbore to be steered in a chosen direction in 3D space known as directional drilling. Directional drillers rely on receiving accurate, quality tested data from the MWD engineer to allow them to keep the well safely on the planned trajectory. MWD tools are generally capable of taking directional surveys in real time. The tool uses accelerometers and magnetometers to measure the inclination and azimuth of the wellbore at that location, and they then transmit that information to the surface. With a series of surveys, measurements of inclination, azimuth, and tool face, at appropriate intervals (commonly every 30ft or 10m), the location of the wellbore can be calculated.

 

MWD tools can also provide information about the conditions at the drill bit. This may include:

  • Rotational speed of the drillstring
  • Smoothness of that rotation
  • Type and severity of any vibration downhole
  • Downhole temperature
  • Torque and weight on bit, measured near the drill bit
  • Mud flow volume

 

Use of this information can allow the operator to drill the well more efficiently, and to ensure that the MWD tool and any other downhole tools, such as a mud motor, rotary steerable systems, and LWD tools, are operated within their technical specifications to prevent tool failure. This information is also valuable to geologists responsible for the well information about the formation that is being drilled.

 

Logging While Drilling (LWD) tools and Formation Evaluation

The measurement of formation properties during the drilling of the hole through the use of tools integrated into the “bottom hole assembly” (BHA) can be expensive but has the advantage of measuring properties of a formation before drilling fluids invade deeply. Further, many wellbores prove to be difficult or even impossible to measure with conventional wireline tools, especially highly deviated wells. In these situations, the LWD measurement ensures that some measurement of the subsurface is captured in the event that wireline operations are not possible. Below is an example of an LWD/MWD bottom hole assembly:

 

LWD BHA

 

LWD tools take measurements of formation properties. At the surface, these measurements are assembled into a pictorial data log for fast and instant interpretation of the formation. LWD tools are able to measure a suite of geological characteristics including density, porosity, resistivity, acoustic-caliper, inclination at the drill bit (NBI), magnetic resonance and formation pressure. The MWD tool allows these measurements to be taken and evaluated while the well is being drilled. This makes it possible to perform geosteering or directional drilling based on measured formation properties, rather than simply drilling into a preset target. Image logs are also possible, and there is an increase in demand for formation pressure tests and collection of fluid samples that can be obtained by increasingly sophisticated LWD tools. Until recent years, pressure and fluid sampling could only be done when drilling was completed and wireline logs were run, but with the advances in LWD technology it is now becoming more routine to perform these tests while drilling the well so important drilling decisions can be made on the fly.

 

There are many different LWD tools available and every logging company has their own proprietary hardware and software. Tool mnemonics (acronyms used to explain the type of tool) feature heavily in formation evaluation programs as most logging tools, individual logging sensor measurements and log curves are known by their individual signature acronyms.

 

The three must-have curves you need for a basic well log analysis are: gamma ray, porosity and resistivity. These three curves give an excellent quick-look log analysis of reservoir formations and can give the wellsite geologist and shore-based petrophysicists an almost real-time preliminary interpretation of the zones of interest. This LWD tool data takes only seconds to get to surface and decoded into the data that is shown on the screens. The time it takes from when the rock is drilled to when the data arrives at surface is dependent on how far behind the bit the individual LWD tools are positioned. For “Near Bit” tools, such as Gamma Ray and Resistivity, this can be less than a metre so the information is received very soon after drilling. Compare this data with how long it takes to get the actual “cuttings” to surface – which can be anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours – and you can appreciate the benefits of having LWD tools in the BHA. In an operation where time equals money, you want your important decision-making data as soon as possible.

 

WL reservoir logs

 

Data Acquisition

Downhole MWD hardware consists of sensors built into a drill collar positioned near the bit. Electrical energy for the system is provided by a battery pack or generated by a small turbine. In a battery pack MWD system, information is recorded and stored downhole in the microprocessor. The data are retrieved when the MWD collar is brought to the surface and are transferred to the computer in the logging unit for additional processing.

 

In a typical turbine-powered “real time” MWD system, data are sent directly to the surface by mud telemetry, which utilizes the column of fluid inside the drill pipe as a transmission line for digital acoustic signals. Downhole measurements recorded by the sensors are transmitted through the mud as positive or negative pressure pulses or as a continuous, fixed-frequency pressure wave.

The mud telemetry signals are detected with pressure transducers in the standpipe at surface. A computer then records the digital signals. Data are converted to engineering units and processed to generate depth- or time-based output.

 

As you can see, it is almost essential for LWD engineers to have a degree in electrical, mechanical, chemical, petroleum or civil engineering although many also progress into it from mudlogging/data engineering positions within the same service provider company. Because of the sometimes extreme physical environment the tools are subjected to downhole (extremes of temperatures and pressures), tool wear and breakdowns are an all-too-common occurrence in LWD operations which places extreme pressure on the LWD operators to perform their job. You have to be able to work under pressure and be thick skinned to be able to handle not only the troubleshooting operations but also the barrage of verbal abuse the LWD engineers are likely to face when their tools fail and “non productive time” is logged on the daily reports. If you think that character of the grumpy company man that John Malcovich portrayed in the “Deepwater Horizon” movie was exaggerated, think again…there really are people like that working on offshore rigs!

 

 

Wireline Logging - Formation Evaluation after Drilling

 

Wireline logs are recorded when the drilling tools are no longer in the hole and are made using highly specialized equipment entirely separate from that used while drilling. To run wireline logs, the hole is cleaned and stabilized and the drilling equipment pulled out of the hole. There is usually several wireline “runs” with different tools being used for different types of petrophysical data collection and formation sampling in each run.

 

After the well has been prepared for logging operations, the first logging tool is attached to the logging cable (wireline) and lowered into the hole to its maximum drilled depth. Most logs are run while pulling the tool up from the bottom of the hole, although just to be sure of having a record, measurements are recorded on the way down as well. The cable attached to the tool is both a support for the tool and a canal for data transmission and is wound around a motorized drum during the logging.

 

There is an instantaneous display as a log is acquired both on the rig and, if requested, by satellite link at the client’s or operators shore-based office. Data is also stored electronically for future processing and editing.

 

Because rig time is expensive and holes must be logged immediately, modern logging tools are multi-function and multi-modular. Despite the use of combined tools, the recording of a full set of wireline logs still requires several different tool descents. While a quick shallow logging job may only take 3 – 4 hours, a deep-hole, full set may take 2 – 3 days or longer. Formation pressure testing and sampling runs can take up to 12 hours to perform each run.

 

The wireline operations are performed from the wireline unit, which is placed within close proximity to the drillfloor. The tools are lowered down the hole via a series of pulleys (sheaves) that direct the wireline cable from the drum at the unit to the open hole on the drillfloor. The wireline technicians will assist the wireline engineers with the pre-run tool checks, rigging up and rigging down of the tools and general maintenance of equipment while the engineers sit in the unit and monitor the data acquisition and processing during and after the run.

 

WL POOH

The wireline unit is extremely small and during wireline operations there will be at least three people working in the unit: the wireline engineer, the wireline technician operating the cable drum and the wellsite geologist. The running of the logs is a very intense operation and constant monitoring by the wellsite geologist and wireline engineer is essential. It is quite often the case that with many of the logs (e.g. formation pressure testing and side wall core operations) both the wellsite geologist and wireline engineer don’t get to leave the unit for their entire 12-hour shift – except for emergency bathroom breaks! Other crew members bring meals into them so they can eat while they continue to work.

 

inside WL unit

 

Wireline engineers are sourced from the same educational backgrounds as MWD/LWD engineers. Electrical engineering is the most ideal base to be starting from but not the only route to get there. The wireline technicians don’t necessarily need any formal qualifications as all their training is done on the job.

 

With technological advances in LWD tools and practices, wireline logging is slowly losing dominance as the main source of formation evaluation data. More and more services are being provided by LWD tools that mean many wireline contingent runs are no longer required. Despite this, wireline logging is, and will remain to be, a critical and necessary part of the offshore drilling operations.

 

When it comes to offshore mudlogging, MWD/LWD and wireline operations, the three major logging companies that service the industry are: Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes. These three companies all have their own divisions of the individual services and some of them still operate under a name of a previous company that has been bought out by one of the big three mentioned (e.g. Geoservices mudlogging services). These three companies all have extensive shore-based support teams that work alongside the client petrophysicists and drilling team to provide timely and reliable data.

 

Part 9 of Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE will continue to explore the many different roles that are performed by third-party service providers on the rig.

 

 

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Don’t forget to supply any feedback or questions you may have about anything in this article or the previous ones. I’m attempting to give you a general overview in these articles of the typical offshore rig environment. I hope it helps give you a better understanding of what it’s like to work offshore.

 

 

If you have only just tuned into “Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE” then you can find the rest of the series of articles here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7.

 

 

 

Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry with a field-based geology career spanning over three decades. As well as being a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries she is also a published author of two books: “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle” and also “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with her through the Pink Petro community, LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-21a08b22 or through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife

bridge banner image

 

The drilling contractor not only operates, and is in charge of, the drilling operations in offshore drilling operations but they are also the owners and operators of the vessel that is being used to drill the wells. Particularly in the case of drillships, they need to employ a full compliment of marine crew who run the vessel while the drilling is taking place. Like all sea-going vessels there are a number of ranks, which are recognized positions on most offshore oil and gas drilling rigs. Due to the nature of jack-up rigs being non-floating rigs, they will have minimal marine crew as they get towed from one location to the next. The more autonomous a drilling unit becomes (i.e. the less dependent it is on external forces for propulsion and stability), the greater the need for a full compliment of marine crew.

 

The marine crew can generally be divided into four main categories: the bridge, the deck, the engineering department and the steward's department. Depending on the type of rig, you may find all or only some of the following personnel working on a rig. Given that their duties are solely to do with the running of the vessel and not the drilling of the well, they nearly always will come from a marine industry background rather than a drilling industry background.

 

Captain/Master

The “captain” or “master” is the vessels highest responsible officer, acting on behalf of the rig’s owner. The captain is legally responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the rig as they are in command. It is their responsibility to ensure that all the departments under them perform legally to the requirements of the ship's owner.

 

The captain/master will have his own cabin on the rig that contains his bedroom and office. He’ll generally work out of here with his job involving mainly administrative duties, which keeps him tied to a computer for much of the day. Like all senior roles on a rig, he gets heavily bogged down with daily reports, on-site meetings, phone calls, conference calls and emails.

 

Chief Engineer

They are responsible for keeping the ship and the machinery running. Today’s mobile offshore drilling units are complex vessels that combine a lot of technology within a small space. This includes not only the engine and the propulsion system, but also, for example, the electrical power supply, devices for loading and discharging, garbage incineration and fresh water generators. The chief engineer is responsible for all operations and maintenance that have to do with all machinery and equipment throughout the vessel.

 

Dynamic Positioning Operator (DPO)

The bridge on any rig is filled with sophisticated navigational equipment, with 7th generation drillships having the most advanced systems in the offshore industry. To maintain their position, drillships and semi-submersible rigs may utilize their anchors or use the ship’s computer-controlled system on board to run off their dynamic positioning. DPO’s are the people who are in charge of controlling the Dynamic Positioning System. The purpose of this system is to automatically maintain a vessel’s position and heading by using its own propellers and thrusters. This is a very complex task because DP systems need to combine position reference sensors, wind sensors and motion sensors to calculate the impact of environmental forces that affect the vessels position.

 

DPO console

 

DP systems are vital for safely carrying out operations in water too deep for stabilization using anchors or jack-up legs. The system was created in the 1960’s to meet the demands of the oil & gas industry and allowed offshore drilling units to operate in deeper waters than was previously done. This paved the way for the discovery of new fields and gave birth to the deepwater and ultra-deepwater drilling industry. Dynamic positioning has many advantages, such as excellent maneuverability, no additional vessels required to work with anchors, able to operate at any water depth, quick set-up and not limited by an obstructed seabed.

 

There can be very serious consequences resulting from the loss of position of the floating rig, the main ones being:

  1. The rig could disconnect from the subsea wellhead, BOP or marine riser, which could cause uncontrolled oil spills and possibly create serious environmental problems.
  2. If there are crane operations taking place with a supply boat alongside the rig then the possibility of a collision with the two vessels is very high and could result in serious damage to either vessel as well as the risk of injuries or even deaths of personnel working on them.
  3. If there are divers working beneath the rig they are completely dependent on the vessel while working underwater so if the rig was to lose position it could have fatal consequences for the personnel working under it.

 

The computer program contains a mathematical model of the vessel that includes information pertaining to the wind and current drag of the vessel and location of the thrusters. This knowledge, combined with the sensor information, allows the computer to calculate the required steering angle and thruster output for each thruster. Dynamic positioning may either be absolute in that the position is locked to a fixed point over the bottom, or relative to a moving object like another ship or an underwater vehicle. One may also position the ship at a favorable angle towards wind, waves and current, called “weathervaning”.

 

Dynamic Positioned vessels are described as being Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3.

Equipment Class 1 (DPS-1) has no redundancy - Loss of position may occur in the event of a single fault.

Equipment Class 2 (DPS-2) has redundancy so that no single fault in an active system will cause the system to fail. Loss of position should not occur from a single fault of an active component or system such as generators, thruster, switchboards, remote controlled valves etc., but may occur after failure of a static component such as cables, pipes, manual valves etc.

Equipment Class 3 (DPS-3) also has to withstand fire or flood in any one compartment without the system failing. Loss of position should not occur from any single failure including a completely burnt fire sub division or flooded watertight compartment.

 

Unlike the rest of the workplaces on the rig, the bridge is a spacious, quiet, clean office with the best views in the “building”. It looks more like the flight deck on the Starship Enterprise than a bridge on a drilling rig. Everyone appears to talk in hushed tones and keeps to themself – well that’s what it seems like after working out on the deck where everyone is screaming at each other to be heard over the noise of the rig.

 

GS DPO

 

Because the loss of position may cause financial, environment, health and safety risks it is essential that only highly qualified personnel can control DP systems. There will generally be two DPO’s on-tour at any one time (one of which will be a senior DPO), so there is always someone “on watch” while the other has meal/bathroom breaks. The DPO has to be competent to use the DP systems in manual and automatic modes without supervision. There is a special training scheme for achieving safety standards for DPO’s in the offshore oil & gas industry. This scheme defines the basic stages of professional training for future DPO’s with three main blocks of instruction – practice on board a DP vessel, theoretical sessions and simulator training at special training centres. The DP “UNLIMITED” certificate will be issued after the successful completion of all phases of the training scheme. This certificate confirms the competence of an operator and allows him to work on DP systems without supervision. The DPO will generally also assist in the co-ordination of all deck, crane, gangway, and helicopter and supply boat operations, as well as safety operations that are carried out from the bridge, such as emergency shut-in procedures and safety drills.

 

Radio Operators

The radio operator generally works out of the bridge, alongside the DPOs, and they will generally be the first point of call in any emergency situation. Their main role is to provide reliable communications between the vessel and the shore, other vessels and helicopter traffic.

 

The radio operator works under the supervision of the Captain/Master, and reports directly to them. They establish and maintain the ‘flight watch’ during all helicopter operations, and record all details of landings and departures of aircraft. They also keep detailed records of all the persons on board (POB) and what cabin everyone is sleeping in. On fly-out day all departing crew have to report their bag and body weights to the radio operator so they can provide an accurate manifest for the outgoing chopper during crew change operations.

 

The maintenance of all radio equipment and emergency power sources, stock keeping of radio spares, etc. are all an integral part of the Radio Operators role. In addition, the Radio Operator assists the Master with general clerical work such as vessel documentation, daily reports, timesheets and meeting minutes, so they must be computer literate. The Radio Operator also takes on a support role in emergency situations, in both a communication role and as part of the vessels emergency command and control team.  This involves assisting with POB reconciliation, log keeping, emergency radio communications, etc.

 

Because of the prerequisite marine certifications that are required for radio operators, it is quite common for ex-navy personnel to be working in these positions. There is always a nightshift and dayshift radio operator on the rig and when they need to have a food or comfort break throughout their shift they will get the medic or someone else to cover for them so the phone is always manned for emergency calls.

 

satellites

 

With the radio operators job being so critical for communications to and from the rig it is no wonder satellite communications equipment is an integral part of offshore operations these days. Not only is this equipment necessary for the receipt of weather warnings, transmission of position reports, priority traffic, distress messages and just keeping in touch with family and friends, but also the dissemination of well data to and from the rig. Enormous amounts of drilling data is sent in real time to the head office onshore so the specialists and project managers working in the head offices of the energy companies can view the data via a live feed from the rig. All major decisions made on the rig are nearly always in consultation with project managers onshore, so a reliable communication network is essential for timely decisions to be made. Remember…time is money…BIG money!

 

With the improvements in offshore communication technologies comes an improved work-life balance for offshore workers. Now, offshore personnel are able to use wifi, talk to family and friends on the phone and watch television during their off-tour time. If the Internet goes down you’ll soon hear about it! And it quite often does go down; severe weather plays havoc with the satellite hardware and also the satellite TV reception…just like your Foxtel does during a severe storm when you’re at home.

 

Ballast Control Operators (BCO)

Semi-submersible rigs (and to a lesser degree Jack-ups) also need operators to control the buoyancy of the rig from the ballasted, watertight pontoons located below the ocean surface. With its hull structure submerged at a deep draft, the semi-submersible is less affected by wave loadings than a normal ship but with a small water-plane area, the semisub is sensitive to load changes, and therefore must be carefully trimmed to maintain stability. Semisubs are able to transform from a deep to a shallow draft by deballasting (removing ballast water from the hull), thereby becoming surface vessels. Usually they are moved from location to location in this configuration. Jack-up rigs also need a certain degree of ballast control as they have large ballast tanks built into the structure. When the rig is jacked down, its hull floats on the surface of the water like a ship. The ballast tanks can be flooded with water or pumped free of water to control its buoyancy.

 

The BCO is the designated person in charge to maintain stability of the rig and evaluate the possible effect of load combinations while on station and when undertow.  He has to maintain the rig at the required operating draft and keep it upright and on an even keel unless otherwise requested by the OIM / Barge Engineer/Master. Other responsibilities of the BCO include:

 

  1. Evaluate the possible effects of load combinations on the rig during unloading and back loading of supply vessels when the rig is under tow or on station
  2. Assist the Barge Engineer during anchor handling, shifting and moving operations.
  3. Supervises all major changes in deck load distribution, as well as shifting, loading and off-loading of fluids to and from the rigs tanks.
  4. Assist the Barge Engineer in maintaining rig drawings and other documents related to the structure and equipment of the rig.
  5. Trim the rig whenever required by ballasting or deballasting.
  6. Complete standard control room logbook, daily ballast report and official logbook.

 

Keeping the rig trimmed so the deck is perfectly horizontal is critical to drilling operations as the laser sensors on the mud pits will read incorrect volumes if the pits are not level. This effect could mask potential dangers of the well either “kicking” or “taking a drink”, in which the well either has too much mud coming back out of the hole or it loses mud into the formation – both of which can have severe consequences. It is critical that the BCO makes a general announcement over the rigs PA system to alert everyone on the rig if he is “trimming the rig”, so people know to account for the corrections should it affect the mud pit volumes or any drilling parameters.

 

An even more critical reason to maintain control of the ballast of the rig is to prevent any catastrophic “listing” events. Semisubs have been known to suffer from such severe listing from errors in ballast control they have literally sunk into the sea. No one ever wants to see this happening while they’re on the rig!

 

sinking rig

 

Mechanics and Electricians

All rigs have a chief mechanic and chief electrician who lead the electrical and mechanical teams onboard. With offshore rigs being heavily mechanized and automated, both teams are kept very busy. It’s not uncommon to find rig mechanics branching into other fields after they get experience on a rig and find career progressions with specialist third party contracting companies (which will be the topic of the next article).

 

Medics

There will nearly always be a dayshift and nightshift medic onboard and generally at least one of them will be a fully qualified medical doctor. It’s quite common for rig medics to have a military background as they are well trained in emergency medical care and used to working in harsh environments and away from home for long periods of time. While the drilling contracting company is responsible for employing them they will nearly always be sourced from a third-party agency and not directly employed through the drilling company.

The medics work out of the rig “hospital” which is equipped to handle comprehensive first aid care and emergency medical procedures when needed.

 

hospital offshore

 

Storeman

Storeman is an entry-level position that requires no prior offshore experience, although working in a similar role at onshore operations would be an advantage. They are responsible for the storage and distribution of consumable items on the rig, ranging from mechanical and electrical equipment to personal protective equipment. They will also oversee the offloading and storage of chemicals that are needed for drilling operations, which get stored in either the store area or the sack room.

 

 

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As you can imagine, there would be many other roles involved in offshore drilling operations that I wouldn’t have covered in this article but I have provided an overview of the main ones that all rigs generally have. In the next article we’ll start to look at the many third-party contractor roles that are performed on the rig.

 

Don’t forget to supply any feedback or questions you may have about anything in this article or the previous ones. I’m attempting to give you a general overview in these articles of the typical offshore rig environment. I hope it helps give you a better understanding of what it’s like to work offshore.

 

 

If you have only just tuned into “Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE” then you can find the rest of the series of articles here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.

 

 

 

Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry with a field-based geology career spanning over three decades. As well as being a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries she is also a published author of two books: “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle” and also “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with her through the Pink Petro community, LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-21a08b22 or through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife

Offshore oil and gas people part 6

 

 

Following on from the previous article on the drilling crew, in this article we’ll explore the crew that works with all the equipment and operations that are performed between the drillfloor and the seabed. The “SUBSEA” crew is employed by the drilling contractor and is an integral part of the offshore operations.

 

Subsea Operations

 

The subsea crew is responsible for implementing and maintaining the structures, tools and equipment used in the underwater components of offshore oil and gas drilling and production operations. The underwater environment presents unique challenges to subsea engineers, particularly deepwater operations where temperature, pressure and corrosion test the durability of submerged equipment and tools. Most subsea engineering operations depend on automation and remote procedures to construct, maintain and repair components beneath the surface of the water. 

 

To understand what tasks the subsea team are required to undertake we first need to explore the key structures between the seabed and the drillfloor that connect the drilling unit to the well bore. Up until now we’ve only been looking at the elements of offshore drilling that lie above the water line but there’s also a lot of technology hiding beneath the surface of the water. Starting from the seabed and working our way up to the drillfloor we’ll look at the subsea components that help us bring drill cuttings and potentially trapped hydrocarbons safely to surface. With the deepest-water offshore well ever to be drilled lying in 3,400 m (11,155 ft) of water, it’s easy to see why a team of specialists needs to be employed to oversee the operations that happen beneath the waves.

 

Wellhead

The subsea wellhead system is a pressure-containing vessel that provides a means to hang off and seal off casing used in drilling the well. The wellhead also provides a profile to latch the subsea blowout preventer (BOP) stack and drilling riser back to the floating drilling rig. In this way, access to the wellbore is secure in a pressure-controlled environment. The subsea wellhead system is located on the ocean floor, and must be installed remotely with running tools and drillpipe.

 

wellhead housing system

 

The subsea wellhead inside diameter (ID) is designed with a landing shoulder located in the bottom section of the wellhead body. Subsequent casing hangers land on the previous casing hanger installed. Casing is suspended from each casing-hanger top, and accumulates on the primary landing shoulder located in the ID of the subsea wellhead. Each casing hanger is sealed off against the ID of the wellhead housing and the outside diameter (OD) of the hanger itself with a seal assembly that incorporates a true metal-to-metal seal. This seal assembly provides a pressure barrier between casing strings, which are suspended in the 18¾-in. wellhead.

 

A standard subsea wellhead system will typically consist of the following:

  • Drilling guide base.
  • Low-pressure housing.
  • High-pressure wellhead housing (typically 18¾ in.).
  • Casing hangers (various sizes, depending on casing program).
  • Metal-to-metal annulus sealing assembly.
  • Bore protectors and wear bushings.
  • Running and test tools.

 

The drilling guide base provides a means for guiding and aligning the BOP onto the wellhead. Guide wires from the rig are attached to the guideposts of the base, and the wires are run subsea with the base to provide guidance from the rig down to the wellhead system.

 

Blowout Preventer (BOP)

There are two means to prevent an escape of high-pressure fluids or gases from the well when drilling for oil and gas. The primary means is hydrostatic pressure with weighted up drilling mud and the secondary means is the blowout preventer. The BOP is literally the last line of defence in preventing a catastrophic event on the rig. The BOP is an arrangement of valves, rams preventers, annular preventers, connectors and control system that can be controlled from the surface to “shut-in” the well in the event of an impending blowout. In addition to controlling the downhole pressure and the flow of oil and gas, blowout preventers are intended to prevent tubing, tools and drilling fluid from being blown out of the wellbore when a blowout threatens. Blowout preventers are critical to the safety of crew, rig and environment, and to the monitoring and maintenance of well integrity.

 

BOP on seabed

 

With the wellhead just above the mudline on the sea floor, there are four primary ways by which a BOP can be controlled. The possible means are:

  • Electrical Control Signal: sent from the surface through a control cable.
  • Acoustical Control Signal: sent from the surface based on a modulated/encoded pulse of sound transmitted by an underwater transducer.
  • ROV Intervention: remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) mechanically control valves and provide hydraulic pressure to the stack (via “hot stab” panels).
  • Deadman Switch / Auto Shear: fail-safe activation of selected BOPs during an emergency, and if the control, power and hydraulic lines have been severed.

 

These will be described in further detail later on in this article.

 

Two control pods are provided on the BOP for redundancy. Electrical signal control of the pods is primary. Acoustical, ROV intervention and dead-man controls are secondary. An emergency disconnect system, or EDS, disconnects the rig from the well in case of an emergency. The EDS is also intended to automatically trigger the deadman switch, which closes the BOP, kill and choke valves. The EDS may be a subsystem of the BOP stack’s control pods or separate.

Pumps on the rig normally deliver pressure to the blowout preventer stack through hydraulic lines. Hydraulic accumulators on the BOP stack enable closure of blowout preventers even if the BOP stack is disconnected from the rig. It is also possible to trigger the closing of BOPs automatically based on too high pressure or excessive flow.

 

The subsea team is responsible for all maintenance and testing of the BOP and it’s ancillary equipment. Function tests are carried out frequently throughout the drilling program, especially prior to running “the stack” from surface, and also prior to drilling through expected reservoir formations. The drilling crew and subsea team run coordinated tests from both the drillfloor and the backup system’s control panel within the accommodation unit. Every rig must have a BOP control panel at the driller’s station as well as one in a safe location away from the drill floor.

 

BOP control panel

 

The members of a subsea team are generally recruited with an electrical or mechanical trade base or engineering degree and they then go through extensive training programs to familiarize themselves with the subsea operations. Because of the skills required to be able to competently do their job these crew members don’t start working offshore as an unskilled laborer like many of the drilling crew members generally do. Subsea operations are a highly specialized field and as such, highly specialized teams are required to perform the tasks involved. It is also one of the most highly regulated areas in the offshore drilling industry due to the fact that failures in the system can result in catastrophic events, such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Being the last line of defense in the event of a blowout, it is critical that all the subsea equipment can be reliably called upon to shut the well in during a well control emergency situation.

 

Because the BOP is such a critical part of the process safety systems offshore, since the Macondo blowout there have been strict regulatory requirements imposed on the industry to ensure the operators have clear programs in place to identify potential hazards when they drill, clear protocol for addressing those hazards, and strong procedures and risk-reduction strategies for all phases of activity, from well design and construction to operation, maintenance, and decommissioning. Adhering to these regulations requires certification of all subsea equipment from an independent third party regarding the condition, operability, and suitability of the BOP equipment for the intended use and the operator must have all well casing designs and cementing program/procedures certified by a professional engineer, verifying the casing design is appropriate for the purpose for which it is intended under expected wellbore conditions. Third-party verification and inspection organizations (such as Subsea Solutions http://www.subseasolutions.net) work with subsea equipment, specifically BOP and regulatory compliance audits, well-control and drilling equipment inspections, to ensure the highest levels of integrity within the subsea well control system prior to it being deployed.

 

Adjoining the top of the BOP and connecting with the bottom of the marine riser is the lower marine riser package.

 

Lower Marine Riser Package (LMRP)

The LMRP is the upper section of a two-section subsea BOP stack consisting of the hydraulic connector, annular BOP, ball/flex joint, riser adapter, jumper hoses for the choke, kill and auxiliary lines and subsea control modules. The LMRP interfaces with the BOP stack.

 

LMRP module

 

Blowout preventers must have completely redundant control systems on the BOP. These control systems are called pods and are designated Blue Pod and Yellow Pod in all systems, no matter which manufacturer. They can be found on the lower marine riser package and are extensively function tested prior to the deployment of the BOP.

There can be as many as six emergency systems in a BOP to operate critical functions in the case of the loss of the primary control system.

Emergency Disconnect Sequence (EDS) – In a case where a dynamically positioned rig has lost station-keeping ability, the EDS is a one button system that allows the wellbore to be secured by closing the shear rams. The hydraulic functions to the lower BOP are then vented and the LMRP is separated from the lower BOP by unlatching the connector. An over‐pull is preset on the riser tensioners and the LMRP lifts from the lower BOP. A riser recoil system prevents a sling shot effect. After the EDS button is activated, the sequence takes about 55 seconds maximum.

Acoustic systems – A limited number of emergency functions (typically shear rams and LMRP connector) can be operated from the rig using a hydrophone transmitting to transducers on the BOP. It is uncertain if these systems will work in a well control situation where considerable noise is generated from flow in the wellbore.

Remote operated vehicles (ROVs) have pumps which can operate functions through a ‘hot stab’ plugged into a dedicated receptacle in panel. The limitation of an ROV is the time to deploy from the rig to the seabed and the limited flow rate of their pumps.

Dead man systems will close the shear rams in the event all hydraulic and electric control is lost on the BOP. This would typically only happen if the riser string parted. In deepwater if the riser is lost, then the hydrostatic pressure of the drilling mud, which is needed to contain wellbore pressure, would be reduced as it is replaced by seawater. Closing the shear rams secures the well.

Automatic Disconnect System (ADS) closes the shear rams when the lower flex joint reaches a preset angle.

Autoshear closes the shear rams in the event the LMRP is unintentionally disconnected.

 

The BOP and LMRP are run subsea using the “marine drilling riser” after the surface well has been drilled and a wellhead has been landed and cemented in the seabed.

 

Marine Drilling Riser and Marine Riser Tensioner

A marine drilling riser is a conduit that provides a temporary extension of the subsea oil well to the drilling rig. The “riser” has a large diameter, low pressure main tube with external auxiliary lines that include high pressure choke and kill lines for circulating fluids to the subsea blowout preventer (BOP), and usually power and control lines for the BOP.

 

marine riser RIH

 

When used in water depths greater than about 20 meters, the marine drilling riser has to be tensioned to maintain stability. A marine riser tensioner located on the drilling platform provides a near constant tension force adequate to maintain the stability of the riser in the offshore environment. The level of tension required is related to the weight of the riser equipment, the buoyancy of the riser, the forces from waves and currents, the weight of the internal fluids, and an adequate allowance for equipment failures.

The marine riser is kept in tension with large pistons operated with an air/oil system at pressures up to 3,000 psi. The riser may be connected via a tensioning ring to wire rope, which is reeved over sheaves on the pistons, or the pistons may be connected directly to the riser tensioner ring.

 

riser tensioners

 

 

Once the BOP stack has been successfully run to the seabed with the marine riser and latched onto the wellhead, it will undergo another series of function tests to determine its operability under water depth conditions. The density of water can cause problems that can increase dramatically with depth. The hydrostatic pressure at surface is 14.6 psi (pounds per square inch) but this increases by this amount for every 10 metres of water depth. For a deepwater well that has the wellhead on the seabed in 2,000 m of water you would expect to find the hydrostatic pressure acting on the BOP to be around 3,000 psi. When you also consider the water temperature to be close to 0° Celsius then you can imagine the type of hostile environment these safety-critical components have to function under. Making equipment that can operate under these conditions is the job of the manufacturers subsea engineers – making sure they work and keeping them well maintained is the responsibility of the subsea engineers onboard the rig. Troubleshooting BOP issues is generally a collaboration between specialist subsea engineers onshore and the subsea maintenance crew involved in the offshore operations. If subsea function tests fail then the entire BOP stack and riser string has to be pulled up to surface so physical examination of the unit can take place. This is a very time-consuming and costly exercise so making sure everything is functioning 100% before running it down to the seabed is imperative. As anyone who has ever worked offshore knows, it’s all-too-common for BOP’s to fail function tests and this is why such strict regulatory conditions have been placed on the subsea components used for the drilling of offshore wells, especially in deepwater and ultra-deepwater wells.

 

Once the BOP has been successfully tested it’s time to drill ahead!

 

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In following articles I’ll explain all the remaining roles that the drilling contractor undertakes, such as that of the marine crew and electrical and mechanical tradespeople, before moving onto roles undertaken by the oil and gas company operators of the drilling campaign and also third party contractors. It takes an extremely well coordinated specialist workforce to keep the drilling operations running smoothly and safely 24-hours a day for 365 days of the year. There’s still plenty of interesting articles to come so stay tuned!

 

Don’t forget to supply any feedback or questions you may have about anything in this article or the previous ones. With so many countries and nationalities involved in drilling of an offshore well it’s impossible to cover all the details and specific job titles because they differ from region to region. I’m attempting to give you a general overview in these articles of the typical offshore rig environment. I hope it helps give you a better understanding of what it’s like to work offshore.

  

If you have only just tuned into “Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE” then you can find the rest of the series of articles here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

 

 

Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry with a field-based geology career spanning over three decades. As well as being a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries she is also a published author of two books: “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle” and also “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with her through the Pink Petro community, LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-21a08b22 or through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife

drill crew banner

 

Now we’re getting to the group of workers who are regarded as the “face” of the offshore drilling industry – the drilling crew. They are legendary not only because of the extremely physically demanding job that they do on the rig but also because of the shenanigans they are known to get up to when they aren’t on the rig. If there’s a drill crew stuck in town during a cyclone/hurricane evacuation then you can bet there’s going to be a lot of alcohol drunk and crazy antics performed while they sit the storm out. These guys are not only known for their hard work but also their hard drinking. While times are definitely changing, especially with the introduction of “zero tolerance” policies regarding alcohol and unsafe behavior, the drill crew still take pride in living up to their reputation of being tough both on the job and off it. They really are the lifeblood of the rig and the larger-than-life personalities of many of the people who work on the drillfloor make for interesting dynamics in the workplace. Most of the senior drill crew members have worked offshore all their working life and have known nothing else but working and playing hard. If you’re a quiet and sensitive kind of guy…then you don’t belong in a drilling crew!

 

Despite this, there has been a subtle shift over recent years with the hardest workers also being the more health conscious on the rig and spending their off-tour time working out in the gym. With such a macho reputation to live up to it’s important to also look the part! Physical fitness is a very important aspect of a roughneck’s job and staying in shape while on the rig is made more convenient now with all new rigbuilds seeing the importance of providing first class fitness facilities on the rigs. It’s also a common sight to see buckets of protein powders on the shelves in the galley as rig workers who are serious about their “gains” bring their muscle-building supplements to work with them. It’s like a sub-culture within a culture that already demands a high level of physical fitness and resilience.

 

So what are the roles performed by the drilling crew? Lets take a look at them now, starting with the least experienced workers in the crew, the roughnecks.

 

Roughnecks

 

roughneks1

 

Roughnecks generally get their job through one of two channels:

  1. Being promoted from a roustabout position after starting on the rig with no, or minimum, experience in the drilling industry.
  2. Being employed with some experience in the drilling industry after working on land rigs. There is a lot more to offshore drilling than what there is on land rigs so even if a person has a lot of experience onshore they will still generally have to start at the beginning again when they go offshore.

 

Depending on the amount of previous relevant experience you had before joining the offshore drilling crew you could progress up the ranks quite quickly after getting a start as a roughneck. However, with each promotion up the ladder comes much higher responsibilities and many people prefer not to take on these more mentally demanding roles and are happy to stay a roughneck.

 

The main role of a roughneck is to assist in all areas of the drilling operations with the majority of their time being spent on the drillfloor. Everything on the drillfloor is very heavy and/or under very high pressures, making it one of the most dangerous places on the rig. There is always something being run in the hole or being pulled out of the hole and the roughnecks are responsible for the physical work that is needed to get this done. The driller operates the movement of the suspended drillstring but it’s up to the roughnecks to maneuver the tubulars while connecting and disconnecting additional stands of drillpipe/casing/riser etc. Through all stages of the operation the roughnecks are involved in the manual handling of all drilling and specialist equipment.

 

Safety equipment is always evolving to minimize the dangers to drillfloor personnel through automation of many of the most hazardous tasks involved in the drilling process but stringent safety guidelines still have to be adhered to. While machines like “iron roughnecks” are now commonly used to assist in pipe connections it’s still paramount to always be aware of your surroundings. No amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves and hard hat, are going to save you from being crushed to death if you’re standing in the wrong place when something “lets go” on the drillfloor. Unpredictable occurrences like equipment malfunctions and downhole instability can happen at any time and have been the cause of many deaths in the industry over the years.

 

drill floor

 

Many of the later generation rigs will have wireless communications between the driller and the roughnecks while performing operations on the drillfloor. Clear communication is essential to getting the job done quickly and safely and wireless headsets are becoming the norm now in many offshore operations. With the driller operating from a room off to the side of the drillfloor it’s necessary to communicate with the workers on the drillfloor via loudspeaker, with key personnel commonly also having wireless headsets so they are able to communicate directly with the driller.

 

Being the workhorses of the drilling crew means the roughnecks don’t generally make any of the decisions - they just have to follow the orders. Having a high degree of commonsense and being able to communicate clearly are key qualities that a roughneck must have. Like roustabouts, the roughnecks are generally sourced from a relatively local workforce in the city closest to where the rig is operating. The more experienced they become, the more likely they are to get promoted to the next position in rank, which is generally the position of “derrickman”.

  

Derrickman

 

derrick man

 

The term “derrickman” was originally coined because one of their main tasks was to work up in the derrick of the rig and help maneuver the drill pipe in and out of the hole. This job was done from a platform high up in the derrick known as the “monkey board”. This is still carried out today on many of the older rigs but the later generation rigs now have sophisticated pipe handling machines that automate a lot of these practices.

 

The derrickman’s position is where the “brain” starts taking over from the “brawn”. While still performing very physically demanding tasks, the derrickman now has a lot more responsibility than that of a roughneck and roustabout. As well as helping run and retrieve drillstring sections from the well bore either from aloft in the derrick or on the drillfloor, he is also responsible for monitoring and maintaining all the drilling fluid systems and equipment associated with the drilling of the well.

 

One of the most critical factors in the drilling of any offshore oil and gas well is the drilling fluid that is used to facilitate well bore stability and also to lift the drilled rock cuttings to the surface for analysis. The drilling fluid is commonly referred to as “mud” and it is a delicately balanced blend of chemicals and liquids with properties designed to optimize the drilling process. This mud is contained within a closed circuit throughout the drilling process and monitoring it is critical to the successful drilling of the well. Not only do the properties of the mud have to be maintained but the volumes of the mud going in and coming out of the well have to be meticulously monitored to make sure the well isn’t taking, or giving, any extra fluids. Catastrophic events can follow either of those two situations if they aren’t caught quickly enough. The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe occurred after an undetected increase in flow of the drilling fluid came out of the well. This was in direct response to hydrocarbons escaping uncontrollably from the bottom of the well, which eventually caused the devastating “blowout” that resulted in the deaths of 12 rig workers, the sinking of the rig, and the historical environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

 

The start location for the drilling mud is in the pit room, which is housed in a level below the drillfloor. While most onshore drilling rigs may only have 1 to 3 pits for mud, an offshore rig can have dozens of separate pits for storing mud for all contingencies, with each pit containing mud of differing properties. These pits contain sensors for recording the volumes in each pit and these volumes are monitored by the derrickman. If he sees any discrepancies in the readings then he has to notify the driller immediately. (Many other people on the rig also monitor the pit levels, as you will see later in this series).

 

shakers

 

From the pit room, the mud is pumped via the mud pumps into the well, down the drillpipe, and then circulated back out to the surface. Once it reaches the surface it exits the flowline over a set of vibrating shaker screens that sieve the rock cuttings from the drilling fluid so the mud can then be re-used back down the hole. The rock cuttings are centrifuged to recover as much of the mud as possible for reuse. The derrickman is responsible for the monitoring of this entire circuit of the drilling fluid. Qualitative and quantitative analysis of the drilling mud is an important part of the derrickman’s duties, as is the safe and efficient running of all the equipment involved in the process. Neglecting to see the warning signs of disequilibrium in the mud system can lead to catastrophic consequences…and very quickly. You can start to understand now why some roughnecks just prefer to stay roughnecks! In reality though, it’s not just the responsibility of the derrickman to keep an eye on the mud status but also that of many other people further up the line of command, as we will see in future articles. And the next person further along that line of command is the Assistant Driller.

 

Assistant Driller

 

The assistant driller (AD) has worked his way up from either the roughneck or roustabout position and competently performed the role of a derrickman before getting promoted to officially start training as a driller. He will work from the doghouse (the room the driller works from on the drillfloor) and will generally answer all phone and radio calls so the driller isn’t disturbed from the serious business of drilling the well. The drillfloor is usually a very busy place and the AD acts as an intermediary between the driller and more senior supervisors, and the derrickman and roughnecks. He will get trained in all aspects of well control but will not have the powers to act on any well control issues without being instructed to do so by the driller or more senior personnel. Like the derrickman, the AD has to closely monitor the mud pits and alert the driller if there are any signs of gains or losses in the mud system.

All personnel from the assistant driller level and up have to have a current well control certification. The well control course is held over five days and the ticket is valid for 2 years. The entire 5-day course has to be repeated every time you need to be recertified.

 

Given the amount of experience needed to attain an assistant driller position, it is quite common for the AD’s to be kept on for future drilling campaigns should the rig transit to a different country. The drilling company has had to invest a lot of time and money into training these members of the drill crew so they tend to hold onto them for as long as they can. Once they are deemed capable and competent, they can be promoted to the driller’s chair at the next opportunity.

 

Driller

 

driller

 

The driller probably has one of the least physically demanding jobs on the rig but one of the most mentally demanding jobs. While the drillers of days gone past would stand on their feet all day controlling “the brake” in a ramshackle corrugated tin shack, the operators on modern rigs are now “cyber” drillers and control the whole drilling operations from a huge comfortable chair with joystick controls, in an air-conditioned room complete with coffee making facilities. Generally the only time they get out of the chair during their 12-hour shift is when they go for meal breaks.

 

The driller has the authority to take evasive action should he detect a serious well control issue that requires the well to be “shut in”. The reaction time to detection and taking action may only be a matter of seconds so he has to have the knowledge and competency to be able to do whatever is needed to control the well. For this reason, it’s essential that the driller isn’t distracted with tasks that the assistant driller can otherwise take care of.

 

Along with the added responsibility comes the paperwork. The driller is responsible for filling in a mandatory IADC (International Association of Drilling Contractors) report every day which is a record of all matters pertaining to the drilling of the well for the two 12-hour shifts each day. The assistant driller and toolpusher will generally contribute to this requirement and between the three of them they will make sure all necessary activities are recorded after their shift has ended. These reports are submitted to a governing body and kept as a permanent record of the activities performed on the rig, regardless of the operations.

 

All drillers have worked their way up through the ranks so will generally have a minimum of several years of offshore experience. Because of the level of experience, and the cost in time and money it has taken to get them to this position, they will nearly always be permanent employees of the drilling contractor company. Once they have gained sufficient experience as a driller the next position up the chain of command is the drillfloor supervisor, or “toolpusher”.

 

Toolpusher

 

The toolpusher is the supervisor that all the drilling crew reports to. He oversees all aspects of the drilling operations and is the intermediary between the drilling crew and the rig manager (OIM) and the Company Man. There will generally be a dayshift and nightshift toolpusher, and sometimes an additional senior toolpusher in large operations. The toolpusher will spend most of his time in the doghouse assisting the driller during critical times of the drilling operations and when things are quiet on the drillfloor you’ll find him in an office in the accommodation quarters filling in paperwork and replying to emails. As with any job, the higher up the food chain you get, the less physical work you have to do but get overloaded with additional responsibilities and administrative tasks.

 

The computer age has well and truly hit the offshore drilling industry, with computer systems controlling all aspects of the drilling operations on modern offshore rigs. There are dozens of sensors placed all over the rig, monitoring all aspects of the drilling operations. Voluminous amounts of data are collected from sensors that record drilling parameters (such as torque on pipe, overpull, hook height, rate of penetration, drillpipe revs, weight on bit, etc.), circulating mud properties (pump rate, mud temperature in and out of the hole, mud weight, circulating density, static density, gas content, etc.) and also sensors that detect gas and other contaminants in the air that have been circulated out of the well. Computer systems all over the rig monitor the outputs of these sensors and alarms will warn of changes in parameters or outputs that can be signals of unfavorable conditions. Daily reports have to be produced by all departments and the data collected all over the rig is used to monitor the progress of the drilling operations. The toolpusher has to make sure all of these monitoring capabilities are operative and manage the ongoing maintenance and operation of all rig data collection equipment.

 

Most of the computerized systems only record data and warn of any possible dangers, with human intervention needed to take evasive action. However, there are also automated systems that initiate evasive action should dangerous situations be detected. One of these is the Deadman Auto Shear (DMAS) that can activate the closing of the  shear rams on the blowout preventer (BOPs) automatically, based on too high pressure or excessive flow. While the toolpusher has to make sure all these systems are operative, the responsibility of maintaining and operating these systems falls under the workscope of the Subsea department, which will get explained in the next part of this series of articles.

 

There’s only one more person on the rig that holds a higher position than the toolpusher within the drilling crew and that is the OIM.

 

Offshore Installation Manager (OIM)

 

The OIM is responsible for all the personnel on the rig and for the safe drilling of the well. The buck stops with him in regards to any drilling, machinery or personnel issues on the rig that fall under the drilling contractors responsibilities. He is the big daddy of report writing and will spend most of his day working in his office fulfilling mandatory reporting requirements, answering phone calls, replying to emails and attending meetings. Together with the Company Man, the OIM must be consulted before any procedural changes can be made on the rig.

 

The OIM will generally have worked his way up the ranks from a roustabout or roughneck position and will have decades of experience in the offshore drilling industry. In emergency situations the fate of the rig, and all people working on it, will ultimately be his responsibility. There is only ever one OIM on board – one of the few positions on a rig that doesn’t have a dayshift and nightshift representative.

 

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In the following articles I’ll explain all the remaining roles that the drilling contractor undertakes, such as that of the marine crew and electrical and mechanical tradespeople. It takes an extremely well coordinated specialist workforce to keep the drilling operations running smoothly and safely 24 hours a day for 365 days of the year. Stay tuned!

 

Don’t forget to supply any feedback or questions you may have about anything in this article or the previous ones. With so many countries and nationalities involved in drilling of an offshore well it’s impossible to cover all the details and specific job titles because they differ from region to region. I’m attempting to give you a general overview in these articles of the typical offshore rig environment. I hope it helps give you a better understanding of what it’s like to work offshore.

 

 

If you have only just tuned in to Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE then you can find Part 1 of this series of articles here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.

 

 

 

Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry with a field-based geology career spanning over three decades. As well as being a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries she is also a published author of two books: “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle” and also “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with her through the Pink Petro community, LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-21a08b22 or through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife

Part 4 Banner

 

Now that we’ve covered the comfy aspects of working offshore…like the free food and gym…it’s time to get serious about what people actually do on an oil rig. The reason the “off-tour” facilities are so good is because when you are “on-tour” you work bloody hard! When you are working 12+ hours every day for up to 28 days straight then you don’t have much spare time to be doing cooking, cleaning and washing.

 

When people hear the term “oil rig workers” the mental picture that immediately comes to mind is that of roughnecks throwing tongs and slips around the drill pipe on the drill floor. Without a doubt, this would be the most dangerous and physically demanding job on an offshore oil rig, and the one the public most commonly associates with the drilling industry. While the drilling crews are the “face” of the industry they are just a small part of the total workforce that contributes to the successful drilling of each and every well drilled offshore.

 

In this article I’ll start breaking down the workforce and explaining all the different roles that are performed offshore. Starting with the drilling contracting company that owns the rig I’ll list, and explain, all the job titles and what they involve. Because many of the senior personnel on any rig have normally worked their way up through the ranks of the company, it makes sense to start at the entry-level positions and work our way up to the top roles. The role titles may change from rig to rig but the following list is a guide of the more common ones. This article will cover the deck crew and what they do.

 

 

Roustabout

 

The roustabouts are generally the least experienced and least skilled workers on the rig. It is the entry-level position for most people who start working on a rig who don’t have any formal profession or trade. Generally a rigging background is an advantage because their main job is helping to move equipment around the decks.

 

Roustabouts have the most exposure to the weather than any other workers on the rig as they generally spend their entire 12-hour shift working on the open deck areas. With the extreme remoteness of drilling locations also come extremes of climate. It’s all too common to be working in conditions of extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme winds and/or extremely rough seas so you definitely need to have a tough skin and be physically fit. According to Wikipedia: “An early 2010 survey by Careercast.com of the best and worst jobs — based on five criteria: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress — rated 'roustabout' as the worst job. Nonetheless, the anecdotal and subjective experience of an actual roustabout reveals the excitement of a challenging, adventurous job.” If this is where you are starting off your career in the oil and gas industry then I guess it can only get better!

 

Given the limited amount of deck space on an offshore rig, only equipment that’s needed for immediate operations are stored on the deck while other equipment is stored on nearby supply boats. There’s always a transfer of equipment going on between the supply boats and the rig and overhead heavy crane lifts are one of the most dangerous hazards that everyone has to watch out for while working offshore. Many deaths have occurred over the years from people mindlessly putting themselves at risk by being underneath a suspended load. It is essential at all times that everyone walking around the decks watches out for overhead loads and stays outside the perimeter of where the load could fall should the suspension cables fail.

 

roustaboutsdogman

 

Because roustabouts don’t require any previous skills they are generally sourced from the closest mainland base to where the rig is drilling offshore. With most countries these days requiring by law that international oil companies utilize a “Local Content” policy, the drilling company will usually source their unskilled laborers from the local national workforce. Because of this, roustabouts are one of the most transient work groups on an offshore rig. With most exploration wells, the roustabouts only stay on the rig for the duration of the drilling campaign (which could be just a few months up to a few years) and if the rig then goes to another country for the next contract then the roustabouts will be laid off and new ones sourced at the next location. Because of this fact, many roustabouts are employed through labor hire companies. In places where the producing fields are well established and long-term drilling is always being undertaken (for example many appraisal and development/production wells), the work continuity for roustabouts would be much more stable. Places like the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea are two examples of this.

 

Like everyone who works outside the accommodation quarters, roustabouts have to adhere to the strict personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. Basic mandatory requirements for PPE for workers on the deck include: hard hat, safety glasses, ear plugs, long sleeve shirt, long pants, (or coveralls), steel-capped work boots and impact gloves. This can vary from rig to rig but most rigs these days will have these as minimum mandatory PPE. For rigs drilling in equatorial and sub-equatorial regions there is an added personal safety risk of people succumbing to heat illnesses because of these PPE requirements. Heat stroke can have fatal consequences and it’s sometimes very hard to detect in workers as they will not want to be seen to be slacking off in their duties so will work through the signs of heat exhaustion until it escalates to heat stroke, by which time it can already have irreversible effects on the body. There are many ways of managing this and supervisors need to be very aware of how the climatic conditions can be affecting the workers and use mitigating strategies to avoid the serious consequences of heat illnesses.

 

The roustabouts also oversee the helicopter operations. Whenever a chopper is due on deck they will be called into action to assist in ensuring the safety of incoming passengers disembarking, outgoing passengers boarding the aircraft, and the safe loading and unloading of bags and freight. They can also be required to refuel the chopper while it is on the deck, if necessary. The engines and rotors are rarely shut down and all operations are completed “on the fly”. Accordingly, all tasks are undertaken with urgency and precision and follow a very strictly orchestrated routine.

 

While many roustabouts never aspire to be anything but a general laborer on the rig, many others use this start as a springboard to further their career in the industry and work their way up the ranks to a more senior drilling crew position.

 

Crane Operators

 

cranes collage

 

After the all-imposing derrick, the massive cranes are the most identifying features on any offshore drilling rig. All rigs have at least two large cranes but many will have three or even four. Every piece of equipment offshore is heavy. Even the drill bits need to be lifted to the drill floor by cranes. Fifty tonne pedestal cranes are a heavy piece of equipment and deserve to be treated with respect. Being the workhorses of the rig means they are in constant use and therefore one of the highest areas for potential safety hazards. Regularly scheduled preventative maintenance is critical, as is having highly experienced people operating them.

 

Offshore crane operators have to be highly experienced to be able to handle the unusual work conditions. Unlike land-based crane operators who have a stationary worksite they are operating on, offshore operators have to deal with the motion of the vessel they are setting down and picking up from. There are six types of motion that a ship, or floating vessel, can experience and they are broken down into two categories, linear and rotational, and these each have three components to them.

 

Linear Motion

HEAVE – the linear vertical (up/down) motion.

SWAY – the linear lateral (side-to-side) motion, which is generated directly, either by the water and wind currents exerting forces against the hull, or by the vessels own propulsion.

SURGE – the linear longitudinal (front/back or bow/stern) motion imparted by the sea conditions.

 

Rotational Motion

PITCH – the up/down rotation of the vessel about its lateral axis (side-to-side). An offset or deviation from normal on this axis is referred to as “out of trim” and dynamically positioned rigs are constantly conducting trimming activities to keep the decks of the rig horizontally level.

ROLL – the tilting rotation of a vessel about its longitudinal (front-back) axis. An offset or deviation from normal on this axis is referred to as a list or heel. Heel refers to an offset that is intentional or expected, as caused by wind pressure caused by crew actions. List normally refers to an unintentional or unexpected offset, as caused by flooding, shifting cargo, etc. With the ongoing loading and offloading of equipment and fluids from/to the supply boats this is always a motion that has to be compensated for. The rolling motion towards a steady state (or list) angle due to the ships own weight distribution is referred to as heel.

YAW – the turning rotation of a vessel about its vertical axis. An offset or deviation from normal on this axis is referred to as deviation or set.

 

It takes a very skillful operator to safely and successfully lay down sometimes very heavy and/or very large pieces of equipment in tight positions on a continually moving deck. Unpredictable wind and wave movements can make the task incredibly more difficult than the same load being handled on a land-based job.

 

crane cabincrane boom

 

Although the crane operators cabin is high off the deck they are still quite often working blind due to structures that obstruct their view of the deck where they are loading equipment. In these circumstances they rely totally on the verbal instructions over a radio or visual hand signals from a dogman on the deck that is in line-of-site of both the load and the crane operator. All lifts are a team effort with precise and clear communication. Crane lifts in very strong winds – which are quite common offshore – can be very dangerous and really test the crane driver’s and dogman’s skills to the limit.

 

Although not legislated, it is generally expected that an offshore crane operator holds a Tower Crane (CT) High Risk License and has completed a certification course in operating an offshore crane. Prior experience as a dogman would almost always be the first step towards a job as a crane operator. Having experience working offshore doing other deck duties, such as a roustabout and dogman, would be essential prerequisites. With efficient use of time being critical in all offshore operations it’s essential that crane operators are highly skilled and able to maneuver loads quickly and precisely. There’s little room for error and no time for repeated attempts. All lifts are a well-coordinated collaboration between the crane operator, deck crew, third-party contractors who need their equipment moved and the DLC (drilling logistics coordinator). This “offline” process is ongoing 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, to support the high-cost “online” process of drilling the well. Much of the cost involved in drilling a well is related to the drilling operations and if these are delayed in any way by unprepared lifts of essential equipment then it starts costing the drilling company money. Being organized is key to all operations offshore. Time is money!

 

Deck Pusher

 

The typical term for a field supervisor or foreman in the oil and gas industry is a “pusher”. The person in charge of supervising all the activities that take place on the decks of the rig is commonly referred to as the “deck pusher”. The deck pusher will have several years of experience working offshore and understand the logistics of moving equipment around the decks to tie in with the hectic pace of the drilling operations. He will coordinate the crews and permits required to plan the lifts and ensure they are all done safely and in a timely manner.

 

The deck pusher needs to have a thorough understanding of the rig’s HS&E policies and also be very experienced in preparing and issuing work permits. Safety systems have to be very strictly adhered to while working offshore and the deck pusher must not only follow them himself but make sure all the deck workers he is supervising are following them too.

 

There will always be a day shift and night shift deck pusher on board the rig at all times as crane operations are ongoing 24 hours a day. The only boat-to-rig transfers that aren’t generally carried out at night are fluid transfers via hoses. Things such as fuel and drilling fluids can contaminate the environment if they were to leak during the transfer so it’s important to do these transfers during daylight hours so any leaks in the hoses or transfer system are detected immediately.

 

The deck pushers will meet daily with the drilling logistics coordinator (DLC) and the relevant third party personnel to plan each days lifts. Knowing where everything is placed on the decks at all times is of critical importance and the deck supervisor and DLC are in charge of managing this. Like all jobs on the rig, deck lifts rely on a detailed plan and team effort to get them done safely and in a timely manner.

 

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This article has explained the general deck duties and the people responsible for getting them done. The next article, Part 5, will discuss the drilling crew and what jobs they are responsible for. The drilling of an offshore oil and gas well is a very complicated and highly technical undertaking and you’ll see in future articles how the drill crew works in with third party contractors to get the job done. We’re getting closer to the serious action now so stay tuned and keep reading!

 

 

 

Don’t forget to supply any feedback or questions you may have about anything in this article or the previous ones. With so many countries and nationalities involved in drilling of an offshore well it’s impossible to cover all the details and specific job titles because they differ from region to region. I’m attempting to give you a general overview in these articles of the typical offshore rig environment. I hope it helps give you a better understanding of what it’s like to work offshore.

 

 

If you have only just tuned in to Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE then you can find Part 1 of this series of articles here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

 

 

 

Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry with a field-based geology career spanning over three decades. As well as being a recreational marathoner who has run over 40 marathons in 16 different countries she is also a published author of two books: “Call of the Jungle – How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Marathon through the Amazon Jungle” and also “An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist”. You can connect with her through the Pink Petro community, LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/amanda-barlow-21a08b22 or through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnInconvenientLife