The UK offshore oil and gas industry began in the 1960s after reserves were found in the North Sea. It is a dynamic industry which is constantly looking at new ways to use technology as exploration and production moves into new areas with deeper water and more challenging weather conditions.
At present the industry is mainly located off the east coast of England and Scotland, but exploration is also being carried out in the western approaches, the Irish Sea and to the west of the Shetland Islands.
The industry employs around 29,000 people in a number of areas including:
- drilling and production operations construction of mobile drilling rigs and oil production platforms,
- pipe laying and support vessel activities,
- onshore activities at terminals where oil and gas pipelines come ashore.
Expro employs more than 4,500 people in 50 countries and operates in operates in all the major hydrocarbon producing areas of the world. Expro’s head office is in the UK with regional headquarters in Aberdeen, Cape Town, Dubai, Houston, Kuala Lumpur and Rio.
Aquaterra Energy is an Offshore Engineering company based in Norwich which has customers in more than 25 countries. It has expanded rapidly over the last five years and currently employs around 100 people.
ACE Winches works to design, manufacture and hire out hydraulic winches and marine deck machinery for offshore industries. They service the oil and gas, marine and renewable energy, construction and cable lay markets.
Careers working offshore
|Roustabout||A Roustabout is a basic unskilled manual labourer on a drilling rig or platform. Their work involves cleaning, scraping and painting equipment; offloading supplies and distributing them to points of use; and mixing and conditioning drilling mud under the direction of a mud specialist. Roustabouts must be practically minded and physically fit enough to undertake hard physical labour.|
|Roughneck||Roughnecks carry out the manual work of the drilling operation under the direction of the Driller. Training is provided and the job requires a high degree of teamwork as well as the capacity for hard physical labour.|
|Derrickman||A Derrickman Works on a platform up in the derrick, about 85 feet above the rig floor. They handle the sections of drill pipe under the Driller’s direction.
When not working in the derrick, the Derrickman has responsibility for making sure the rig pumps are working properly and for the condition of the drilling mud systems are working properly and ensuring the drilling mud systems are in good condition. They are also responsible for supervising the Roughnecks.
|Driller / Assistant Driller||The Driller controls the drilling equipment and directs the work of the drilling team. The Assistant Driller carries out the same tasks under supervision and acts as the Driller’s relief. The Assistant Driller is usually responsible for keeping written records of the drilling operation. It can take 3 to 5 years to progress from Roughneck to Driller.|
The toolpusher oversees the whole drilling operation and may be responsible for the whole drilling rig, making sure that everything runs smoothly and that the necessary materials and equipment are available. Most Toolpushers have a great deal of experience which they have gained by working up through the ranks as a Roustabout, Roughneck, Derrickman and Driller.
A Toolpusher may have an assistant. These are often graduate trainees who are gaining experience of the overall drilling activity.
|Mud Logger||Despite its humble name this is a vital job that is normally undertaken by a highly trained Geologist as it requires detailed knowledge of the rock formations that are being drilled through. The Mud Logger examines rock cuttings which are brought to the surface during drilling for the presence of hydrocarbons.|
|Production Operator||Production Operators work across the production system – from the reservoir to the customer. The production system can be divided into three subsystems: subsurface (wells), surface handling (process facilities), and storage and sales metering (terminal).
Production Operators may be involved in producing, processing and delivering the correct quantity and quality of product and ensuring that all the production systems are operating in the most efficient way.
|Maintenance Personnel||Maintenance Personnel are the skilled craftsmen and women and technicians responsible for keeping the mechanical, electrical, instrument and telecommunications systems in good working order. Most maintenance personnel them will have learned their trade and obtained experience onshore.|
|Divers||Whilst remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are increasingly used for subsea inspection and maintenance work there is still a requirement for divers who also possess specialist skills such as mechanical fitting, welding etc.|
|Catering staff||Stewards and catering staff support those working offshore and are normally be employed by a catering contractor.|
As there is a lot of competition for offshore work any relevant work experience you gain will be useful when it comes to job hunting. Whilst waiting to take your Offshore Survival Course (see below) you should consider applying for work experience at an offshore installation construction yard. You can find these in areas such as Aberdeen or Glasgow.
Alternatively, work experience with onshore drilling companies can provide you with valuable hands-on experience in the field.
Recruitment companies specialising in the industry can provide valuable information on the current job situation and the kind of skills companies are looking for at this time.
Offshore Survival course
The Offshore Survival Course is an absolute necessity for those wanting to work offshore, though completing a course does not guarantee you a job in this highly competitive industry.
The courses vary in length but the cost for a basic course is approximately £800, excluding accommodation. The courses are very popular and become booked up quickly which may mean you need to apply for a course outside your local area and wait for several months for one to become available.
There are no course fee concessions for people who are unemployed and it is difficult to obtain company sponsorship for the course, though some operators may put employees through courses after recruitment.
Offshore worker usually work 12 hour shifts (12 hours on and 12 hours off) for two weeks continuously, during which time they remain offshore. This is followed by a two or three week rest period ashore. Offshore workers are flown to and from their work sites by helicopter. For UK oil rigs located in the North Sea, offshore workers normally fly out of Aberdeen.
Those involved in offshore drilling undertake tough and demanding work often in dirty, wet and noisy conditions. Production Operators spend most of their time in a control room similar to those found in refineries.
Although life offshore may be very different to the life you are used to at home, the standard of living in the UK industry is generally very high. The size of your living quarters mostly depends on the type of offshore oil rig you will be working on. As a general rule, the new oil rigs tend to have more space and the facilities are more modern.
On most offshore rigs, workers will share a cabin with one other person, sleeping in bunk-beds with your own space for personal belongings. Typically, each cabin has a washing basin and may also have a TV. It is common for workers to share bathroom facilities. All rigs will have a communal area where you may find TVs, a gym, table tennis and other recreational facilities.
The quality of food on UK oil rigs has improved greatly over the last few years and Offshore workers can expect a diverse selection of meals. Many rigs have a self-served buffet. Fresh produce is delivered to the rigs on a regular basis by boat or helicopter. Items like bread are typically made on the rig by a head baker or chef.
Leave time is very generous meaning it is possible to live anywhere in the country and still have ample time to enjoy your leave.
Graduates from Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Mathematics, Geology, Geophysics and Petroleum Engineering courses are all of interest to offshore companies in exploration and production roles such as:
- Geologists and Geophysicists who undertake survey and interpretation work to assess the potential for oil and gas production in new areas (Geologists also work as Mud Loggers, see above).
- Reservoir engineers who estimate field reserves of oil and gas using mathematical models and computer programmes.
- Drilling engineers who analyse drilling performance and factors affecting cost and efficiency.
Petroleum engineers who apply the principles of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Engineering to the recovery and separation of hydrocarbons.
The diagram on the right shows the underwater structures of various types of rigs and platforms. Click on the image to see a larger version.
The type of platform used at each location will be effected by the depth of water they operate in and their proximity to the coastline.
Jack-up platforms can be ‘jacked up’ above the sea. They are designed to move from place to place, anchoring themselves by deploying the legs to the ocean floor using a rack and pinion gear system on each leg.
Jack-ups usually have 3 or 5 legs. These platforms are typically used in water depths up to 400feet (120m), although some designs can go to 550ft (170m) depth.
Fixed platforms are built on legs which are anchored directly onto the seabed. These legs support a deck with space for drilling rigs, production facilities and crew quarters.
Fixed platforms are designed for very long-term use. Various types of structure are used for fixed platforms including steel jacket, concrete caisson, floating steel and even floating concrete.
Steel jackets are vertical sections made of tubular steel members, and are usually piled into the seabed. Concrete caisson structures often have in-built oil storage in tanks below the sea surface which may be used to aid flotation. This allows them to be built close to shore, floated to their final position and sunk to the seabed.
These platforms have hulls (columns and pontoons) to allow the structure to float, but that are of a sufficient weight to keep the structure upright. Semi-submersible platforms can be moved from place to place either under their own power or under tow. They can be used in water depths from 200 to 10,000 feet (60 to 3,000m).
Semi-submersibles can be ballasted up or down by altering the amount of flooding in buoyancy tanks. They are generally anchored by combinations of chain, wire rope and/or polyester rope during drilling or production operations, though they can also be kept in place by the use of dynamic positioning.
A drillship is a vessel that has been fitted with drilling equipment. They are often used for exploratory drilling of new oil or gas wells in deep water but can also be used for scientific drilling (mud sampling or tectonic plate surveys).
Early versions were built using modified tanker hulls today the industry uses purpose-built drilships. Most drillships are fitted with a dynamic positioning system to maintain position over the well. They can drill in water depths up to 12,000ft (3,700m).
TLPs are floating platforms tethered to the seabed in a way that vastly reduces the vertical movement of the structure. They are used in water depths up to about 6,000 feet (2,000 m). The conventional TLP is a 4-column design which looks similar to a semisubmersible. Mini TLPs can also be used as utility, satellite or early production platforms for larger deepwater discoveries.
Spar platforms (Spars) are tethered to the seabed like TLPs but, whereas a TLP has vertical tension tethers, a spar has more conventional mooring lines.
Spars come in three configurations: the conventional one-piece cylindrical hull, the truss spar where the midsection is composed of truss elements connecting the upper buoyant hull (called a hard tank) with the bottom soft tank containing permanent ballast; and the cell spar which is built from multiple vertical cylinders.
The spar is more stable than a TLP since it has a large counterweight at the bottom and does not depend on the mooring to hold it upright.