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  Working in the Oil and Gas Industry - Frequently Asked Questions

What is the oil and gas industry?

The UK oil and gas industry is Britain's greatest industrial success story in the last 50 years.

Oil and gas provide energy and essential chemicals for our transport, industry and homes, and earn valuable tax and export revenues to support the British economy, The figures tell their own story - the UK offshore oil and gas industry:

  • provides three quarters of the UK's primary energy.
  • provides employment for 380,000 people.
  • has invested 150 billion over the last 25 years.
  • has paid 150 billion in taxes since the 1970s.
  • adds 4 billion a year to balance of payments.
  • accounts for one-fifth of UK annual investment.

Working in the oil and gas industry

Britain has been self-sufficient in oil and gas for the last 17 years. Today new technology is employed to reduce the cost of finding and producing oil and gas, and to give the fields a longer productive life.

Current forecasts predict that Britain can expect to remain self-sufficient in oil for at least another 10 years, and selfsufficient in gas well into this century. Over the next 25 years, the industry expects to make 130 new discoveries, and 240 new developments.

The UK oil and gas industry is located mainly off the east coast of Scotland and England, but fields have also been developed in the Irish Sea, west of the Shetland Islands, and in the English Channel. About 18,000 people work offshore on a regular basis on fixed production platforms, mobile drilling rigs, or floating production storage and offloading units (FPS0s).

Who employs people offshore/onshore?

Different types of company employ people offshore:

Operating companies hold the exploration and production licences and operate the production facilities. Some of them are household names, but others are less well known. Most of them are international companies, working in many different parts of the world.

Drilling companies are contracted to undertake the drilling work, and often operate and maintain their own mobile drilling rigs. Like the operating companies, they tend to work globally.

Major contractors provide integrated operations and maintenance services to the operating companies. On some installations they employ almost all the regular offshore personnel (the 'core crew'). Some of these contractors are huge international companies, while others are small by comparison.

FPSO operators operate and maintain floating production storage and offloading units. These look like ships, but are designed to remain on station for months or even years on end, and are packed with equipment for processing oil and gas.

Service companies provide specialist assistance to both operating and drilling companies, e.g. well service firms, drilling mud suppliers, cementing companies, well testing specialists, seismic firms, divers, caterers, etc.

What are offshore installations?

Oil and gas offshore installations are industrial towns at sea, carrying the personnel and equipment needed to access reservoirs thousands of feet below the seabed, and maintain continuous hydrocarbon production. The most important functions are drilling, preparing water or gas for injection into the reservoir, processing the oil and gas before sending it ashore, and cleaning the produced water for disposal into the sea.

Big fixed platforms may have all these functions in one location, but smaller platforms may be dedicated to just one function, such as drilling or gas compression. Some installations can be moved from one location to another, for example mobile drilling rigs and production FPSOs.

What are onshore installations?

These are installations on land and usually close to the sea which receive oil and gas from offshore installations via pipeline (or in the case of oil sometimes by tanker). These installations prepare the liquid products for further refining - but they are not the refineries. They also take the natural gas and make it suitable for piping into the National Grid. At some installations gas liquids are processed.

What actually happens offshore?

The popular image of offshore work often centres on a muddy drill floor, where wells are drilled to target the reservoirs of oil and gas below the surface - but this is only the beginning of the story.

The top end of each production well sprouts a branching series of pipes, gauges and valves called the 'Christmas tree'. At this point, crude oil is a hot, frothy, corrosive, highpressure fluid containing gas, water and sand.

After separation, the crude oil is metered and pumped into the pipeline, or stored until sent ashore by tanker.

The gas separated from the oil may be used for fuel, or compressed and piped to shore or re-injected into the reservoir. Any gas that cannot be used is burnt in the platform's flare, very little gas is now flared.

Processing systems for the gas fields of the southern North Sea are relatively simple. The gas liquids are removed and then the gas is compressed, cooled, dehydrated and metered before being piped to shore.

All production and drilling systems have to be monitored constantly for leaks, since oil and gas are hazardous and extremely flammable.

There is no mains electricity offshore! Power has to be generated on the installation to drive production and drilling equipment, and to support life.

In other words, offshore installations are packed with complex equipment and systems that need to be operated and maintained safely by highly skilled people who understand the technology and the processes involved, and who can work together in integrated teams.

What's it like working on an oil or gas installation?

Offshore installation's vary in size, but, a typical one house a core crew of 50-100 men and women. Living quarters are compact but comfortable, Food is good and plentiful.

Off-shift, a worker can choose to work out in the gym, watch a video, play snooker, read or learn to use a personal computer. Living with work colleagues, however, means that an offshore worker has to be able to co?operate in a group.

Working hours are normally 12 hours on and 12 hours off continuously for two weeks followed by a two/three week rest period ashore. So home life is very disrupted. However, pay is good and experienced technicians can expect to earn upwards of 30,000 a year.

The minimum age for working offshore is 18, but in practice most workers are considerably older than that. The long working day, the harsh weather conditions, the remoteness, and the reliance on helicopter travel do not suit everyone. Others find it a challenging but refreshing environment, quite different from the nine-to-five routine and rush-hour commuting of many onshore jobs. Onshore life is very similar to working offshore with the bonus of going home at night.

How are things organised?

The Offshore Installation Manager or Onshore Plant Manager is in charge, making sure that all operations run smoothly and that safety standards are met. He co-ordinates the work of different groups such as drilling, production and maintenance. Offshore progress or problems are communicated 'to the beach'.

Safety is always the principal concern in every aspect of the oil and gas industry's activities. Every installation has a Safety Case setting out how the risks will be managed. The industry is proud of its safety record over the last few years, and workers are encouraged to report any health, safety or environmental problems.

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