Oil and Gas
Working on- or offshore in the UK’s oil and gas industry is not for the faint-hearted – it’s a challenging prospect on many levels, but also well rewarded for those with the right skills, and with potential for a productive future
Extracting oil and gas offshore is a complicated process carried out in a harsh environment. The UK’s offshore installations range from large structures standing on the seabed, where up to 200 people may work, to smaller floating production facilities that may employ as few as 30. The UK oil and gas extraction industry (referred to as ‘upstream’) covers the exploration, extraction and initial processing of oil and gas (hydrocarbons) from around the UK, both on- and offshore.
The UK still has substantial, potentially recoverable, reserves of oil and gas, but these come with many technical challenges. This makes the UK a high-cost province so it is fortunate that, in its most recent Activity Survey, Oil & Gas UK (the trade association for the oil and gas industry), reported record levels of investment in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) and forecast an upturn in production – positive news not only for Britain’s energy security but also for employment prospects (see below).
Work onshore encompasses a wide range of activities. Scientists and technicians work to produce improved fuels and more efficient energy, while engineers and construction workers build and maintain the plant and pipelines.
Energy supply is governed by complex and sophisticated ICT systems, so technicians, programmers, designers and trouble-shooters are involved. Transporting bulk fuels by road demands specialist transport, licences and safety qualifications.
Working offshore involves two or three weeks on a rig or installation, followed by equal time at home. Everyone works shifts, normally of 12 hours’ duration. They work close to others in places where there is little space to spend time on their own. Working conditions are noisy and dirty; work is outdoors, and involves lifting and carrying heavy weights, and working with powerful machinery. Some of the jobs available are listed in the accompanying box.
Related skills gained in the Services
Although there is no direct relationship between the oil and gas industry and the Armed Forces, as noted in the following section many of the skills required and valued by employers are taught and practised by a number of people in the Services. Generalist skills, such as supervisory management, project management and administration, are sought after, as are all manner of specialists like engineers, divers and cooks. There are also fuel specialists in units, and a few people highly trained in fuel technology.
Employment prospects for Service leavers
According to Oil & Gas UK, there is no doubt that the sector represents one of the major providers of challenging, highly skilled and well-rewarded jobs throughout Britain. Dr Alix Thom, Oil & Gas UK’s Skills and Employment Issues Manager, confirms that, ‘In the next few years alone, there are at least four major projects that will need 4,000 people – and 7,000 people a year will be required to support offshore activities. This is an exciting industry, which not only provides highly skilled and well-rewarded employment, both onshore and offshore, but also the opportunity to push the boundaries in innovation and technology. As technology advances, so too does the capability to extract more oil and gas resources, which means the industry has the potential for a long-term and productive future.
‘To meet these future commitments, the industry is growing the existing pool of talent. This means taking a collaborative approach to attracting people from other sectors. Our sector is working together with the MoD and the Career Transition Partnership (CTP) to match industry job profiles with military roles, in order to identify directly transferable positions, and highlight where training and conversion courses may be required.
‘Oil and gas firms are increasingly recognising the benefits of recruiting men and women from the Armed Forces, who tend to be results-orientated individuals with a can-do attitude, and a broad range of skills and international experience. The industry is aware that there are many highly qualified and skilled individuals in the Services with the capability to take on a challenging second career in the oil and gas industry.
‘Qualities such as team leadership, organisational skills and technical knowledge are all highly prized by the sector, and career opportunities exist in the fields of engineering, project management, health and safety, and the skilled trades. The scale of the industry is such that individuals can progress up the managerial ladder or build a career as a subject matter expert, not to mention the vast diversity of jobs in the wider aspects of the sector encompassing HR, logistics and management.’
The industry is also one of the largest employers of divers. Diving also requires life support technicians managing and controlling all aspects of a diver’s well-being in a decompression chamber between or after dives. ROV technicians man two types of ROV (remotely operated vehicle): work and inspection.
JOB ROLES OFFSHORE
- Geologists locate possible sites and calculate how much oil is there
- Geophysicists map the substructure
- Mud loggers (geologists) analyse mud, fluid and debris from an exploratory drilling
- Reservoir engineers assess oil reserves and drilling sites
- Roustabouts are offshore unskilled manual labourers
- Roughnecks/floormen carry out the drilling operation under supervision
- Derrickmen work above the rig, handling the drill pipe sections
- Pumpmen assist derrickmen
- Assistant drillers coordinate the activities on the drill floor
- Drillers control the drilling team
- Toolpushers oversee the whole operation
- Rig superintendents are responsible for the operation
- Drilling engineers order the drilling programme
- Operations supervisors oversee the well crew’s activities
- Wireline operators maintain the well and the tools
- Coiled tubing operators use a tube to pump fluids into the well
- Production engineers monitor wells and check efficiency
- Production operators manage the flow of oil
- Control room operators (barge engineers) manage the equipment that reports on production
- Offshore installation managers are responsible for offshore operations
- Radio operators control movement and communications
- Crane operators and their assistants load and unload cargo, and supervise teams
- Caterers feed and water the crews
- Stewards maintain and clean accommodation
- Divers inspect and maintain subsea structures, often using remote equipment
- Medics deal with minor complaints and major injuries
- Storemen order and hold equipment and supplies
- Mechanics and technicians perform a variety of specialist roles
- This includes accounting, legal, IT and administrative roles
All offshore workers must achieve the minimum industry safety training standards, which are as follows:
- introduction to the hazardous offshore environment
- working safely (including safety observation systems)
- risk assessment
- platform integrity
- permit to work (also called control of work)
- mechanical lifting
- manual handling
- control of substances hazardous to health
- working at height.
Completion of this programme is included on the individual’s Vantage POB accreditation record and, for this to be maintained, a refresher programme will need to be taken every four years. In exceptional circumstances, an individual who has not undertaken this training may be allowed to work offshore as a ‘green hand’ under the supervision of a mentor.
The Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training (BOSIET) course is a minimum requirement to work offshore. It consists of four modules:
- Safety Induction
- Helicopter Safety and Escape (HUET)
- Sea Survival and First Aid
- Fire Fighting and Self Rescue.
BOSIET is required for cold-water areas and includes additional training in the use of survival suits and emergency breathing systems during the HUET module. The course is are OPITO accredited and successful completion results in an internationally recognised certification.
Those with degrees in geology, chemistry, engineering and logistics, and experience in project management, are highly sought after. AS-levels or equivalent are required to enter as a technician, while GCSEs or equivalent will give you a start at craft level. According to Cogent Skills (the UK’s strategic body for skills in the science industries, led by sector employers), there is a significant under-supply of people qualified at S/NVQ levels 2 and 3, so you might want to think about using your ELC to secure relevant qualifications at level 3 (or above, of course). As occupations that employ people qualified at this level account for well over half of the oil and gas industry, this is a significant shortfall – and one that the industry is aiming to address. There are a large number of relevant S/NVQs to be gained, in subjects including:
- Bulk liquid warehousing
- Chemical, pharmaceutical and petro-chemical operations
- Forecourt operations
- Measurement processes (maintenance)
- Measurement processes (proving, prover)
- Nuclear decommissioning
- Offshore deck operations
- Offshore drilling operations
- Process engineering maintenance
- Processing operations: hydrocarbons
- Refinery control room operations
- Refinery field operations.
Cogent Skills continues to work with industry to develop standards, qualifications and training. Energy & Utility Skills (the UK authority on skills and workforce development in the energy and utilities industries) is also developing occupational standards and qualifications for those involved in mains laying and service laying.
Competition for jobs – offshore in particular – is fierce; relevant skills and experience are valued, with ex-Forces people often highly employable. Pay is good and experienced operators can expect to earn £30,000-plus a year. Offshore installations vary in size, but a typical one houses a core crew of 50 to 100. Living quarters are compact but comfortable. Food is good and plentiful, with a range of activities provided for off-duty periods.