Friday, October 15, 2010

Travel the World

The Oil Industry

If you like to travel, the oil industry is definitely for you. You could visit every continent and many countries.

From darkest Africa to Australia, Europe, Asia, Russia, Middle East and of course North and South America, the oil industry opens up a whole world of travel. In fact the oil industry is probably second only to the aviation industry for worldwide travel opportunities. Even a career in shipping may not get you to as many destinations.

The offshore oil industry is one of the most interesting and exciting places to work on the planet. Your career could take you around the globe and to its every corner.

But first, we want to know more about the industry.

Oil Exploration

Oil and gas are formed from the remains of marine and plant life, mixed with water and silt millions of years ago. On the seabed layers of rock covered the mixture as the earth's plates moved. High pressure and heat from the earth's core transformed the mixture into the complex chemicals collectively known as hydrocarbons.

As this process progresses the oil and gas rise through cracks in the rocks and gradually seep naturally into the environment. Oil and gas reservoirs are created when the rising hydrocarbons are trapped by a layer of rock through which they cannot pass (impervious). They then collect and remain in the porous rocks, allowing oil companies to drill through the impervious layers and into the reservoir.

Specially equipped airplanes have been used to detect tiny variations in the earth's gravitational and magnetic pull caused by underground hydrocarbons. However, this method is only useful for detecting massive reservoirs.

The most common method of detecting potential hydrocarbon reservoirs is the seismic survey. Time differences in shock wave echoes are measured, giving information on rock formations below the surface. Powerful computer systems analyze the data and help to decide on the best places to drill. This greatly reduces the risk of drilling a dry well.

After the decision on where the best place to drill is taken, exploration-drilling vessels such as the Semi-submersible are chartered to drill test wells. If oil is found there are various tests to assess the size and shape of the discovery. They can also find out how the hydrocarbon will flow and how old it is. All this gives an indication as to how the well will perform now and also 20 years in the future. With this information a financial decision is made as to whither or not it will be profitable to extract the hydrocarbon deposits.

Oil Production

Crude Oil is refined into many component parts and has many uses apart from the obvious petrol, diesel, paraffin, bitumen for roads, etc. Every day life would be very different if it weren't for the discovery of oil. For example shampoo, cosmetics, detergents, paint, ink, plastics and many, many more owe all or some of their key ingredients to refined oil.

Production methods take different forms including the installation of a platform. This permanent fixture drills, produces, meters, stores and pumps the oil and gas. Extracting the hydrocarbon reduces the upward pressure on the layers above the reservoir. There is, therefore, a risk of the formation collapsing. To prevent this water or gas is pumped in under high pressure.

Some have satellite-mooring platforms within three miles of the main installation. Sea bed pipes link them and tankers draw the oil at these small platforms.

Others have hundreds of miles of pipe on the sea bed to land oil and gas terminals.

In some cases a number of platforms connect together to send their gas through many hundreds of miles of sea bed gas pipeline to land terminals.

Floating, Production and Storage tankers fix onto sea bed well caps to extract hydrocarbons into their storage tanks. As other tankers connect, the hydrocarbon is transferred and then delivered to land oil and gas terminals.

Rather than costly platforms the industry is moving towards advancing sub-sea technology installed and maintained by remote controlled under water vehicles.

Types of Oil Rigs

Semi Submersible

This floating drilling unit has pontoons and columns that, when flooded with seawater, cause the pontoons to submerge to a predetermined depth. Although it is moved by wave action, it sits low with a large part of its structure under water. This, combined with eight huge mooring anchors, make it a very stable installation and the preferred choice for exploring deep water wells.

There can be over one hundred people on board and although smaller than a platform, conditions are usually good.

This type of rig makes its money by drilling a hole in the seabed then it moves to the next location. There is often an urgency to get things done quickly. With advancing technology some semi submersibles can drill in water depths over five thousand feet.


This immobile structure can be built from concrete or steel and rests on the seabed. When oil or gas is located a platform may be constructed to drill further wells at that site and also to produce the hydrocarbon. Although some platforms can be small, most are massive compared to the other types of installations.

Jack Up

This is a mobile drilling rig, different to the semi submersible. Instead of floating over its drilling location the Jackup has long leg structures, which it lowers to and into the sea bed raising the rig out of the water. The obvious limitation with this type of installation is the depth of water it can operate in. The maximum being five hundred feet. Surprisingly, many marine oil fields are not too deep for this type of installation to operate.

Drill Ship

As the name suggests this is a ship shaped drilling vessel. Unlike the semi submersible and the Jackup, it does not require tugboats to tow it to location. Although they are not as stable as semi submersibles they also drill in very deep waters.


This is usually a converted semi submersible. It is attached to a platform by a long gangway to provide extra accommodation. This, along with the usual leisure and catering facilities, is their only task. They do have a marine crew in charge of stabilizing the installation.

Floating Production & Storage Units

They are usually converted takers or purpose built units although semi submersibles have also been used. They are attached to a seabed well head and they produce and store the oil until another tanker takes it from them. They are used to produce from small wells where it would be too expensive to build a platform.

History of the Oil Industry


Petroleum or crude oil is an oily, flammable liquid that occurs naturally in deposits, most often found beneath the surface of the earth.

Over millions of years, plant and animal remains fall to the floor of shallow seas. As the seas recede, the plant material is covered by sediment layers, such as silt, sand, clay, & other plant material.

Buried deep beneath layers of rock, the organic material partially decomposes, under an absence of oxygen, into petroleum that eventually seeps into the spaces between rock layers.

As the earth's tectonic plates move, the rock is bent or warped into folds or it "breaks" along fault lines, allowing the petroleum to collect in pools.

Early Man was not unfamiliar with crude oil. In the Middle East escaping petroleum gases burned continuously, giving rise to fire worship.

Oil Industry

The oil industry began over five thousand years ago. In the Middle East, oil seeping up through the ground was used in waterproofing boats and baskets, in paints, lighting and even for medication.

Whale oil has been used in more recent times as a source of light. However, the high premium for whale oil decimated whale populations and as their numbers dropped the prices rose further.

The demand for oil was then far higher than the supply. Many companies and individuals were looking for an alternative and longer lasting source of what would later become known as black gold. Apart from a brief period of coal oil, the answer came with the development of drilling for crude oil. Land oil wells were first and as demand continued to grow exploration companies began to look below the sea bed.

The first oil well structures to be built in open waters were in the Gulf of Mexico. They were in water depths of up to 100m and constructed of a piled jacket formation, in which a framed template has piles driven through it to pin the structure to the sea bed. To this, a support frame was added the working parts of the rig such as the deck and accommodation. These structures were the fore-runners for the massive platforms that now stand in very deep water and in many locations around the world.

Clues around the coast of Greenland gave Geologists the idea that there may be oil and gas around Scottish waters.

There have been land oil wells in Europe since the 1920s. It wasn't until the 1960s that exploration in the North Sea really begun, without success in the early years. They finally struck oil in 1969 and have been discovering new fields ever since. The subsequent development of the North Sea is one of the greatest investment projects in the world.

The development of the offshore oil industry in hostile waters has been made possible by many achievements comparable with the space industry. Many fields are located far from land and they are getting further away. New fields are being explored in ever deeper and wilder waters.

After the North Sea UK disaster in 1988 when on 6 July, the North Sea Piper Alpha oil platform caught fire and exploded killing 167 of the 228 on board. The industry and the UK government waited until 1990 for the publication of the Cullen report. Lord Cullen discovered that the main cause of the explosion was the failure in the operation of the permit to work system, for which there are now very strict guidelines. This system is used to over-see work, preventing potentially dangerous work being carried out. It also prevents dangerously conflicting work being carried out by a combination of workers and it ensures that proper laid down procedures are adhered to.

The report brought about many changes and a journey towards much greater safety awareness, procedures and regulations.

Today the industry is very safety conscious. It has to be for its very survival. For example, the safety record of an exploration rig can make a big difference to whether or not an oil company will want to hire it. Oil companies cannot afford to have their name associated with accidents.

When you first arrive you are given a tour of the installation, detailing all safety aspects including fire extinguishers, emergency muster stations, lifeboat stations and procedures. You will be introduced to the rig safety programme.

Everyone attends weekly safety meetings and daily pre "tour" meetings. The weekly meeting is an in-depth look at industry wide safety news and other safety related issues on the rig. Companies share safety information with other companies throughout the industry. This helps to avoid repeated incidents. A fire and boat drill is often held on the same day which involves a mock fire and a mock abandon the rig exercise.

The pre tour meeting is usually a description of the work carried out when you are off shift, the work you will be doing, the work others are currently doing that may effect you and any other relevant issues of the day.

Accidents do happen as in every industry. However, statistics show that with the massive improvements in offshore safety procedures, you now have a higher chance of having an accident if you work in the construction industry than you do on an oil rig.

Offshore Lifestyle

When you get an offer of employment your thoughts will turn to what it is going to be like working in what will be a very strange environment for most people.

From your first trip away life will change dramatically. Not only will your starting salary be on par with middle management onshore, but you will also be living in your place of work, completely surrounded by sea, with no sight of land.

The industry has an above average staff turnover due in part to people being unable to adjust to the lifestyle. Don't get the wrong idea, working offshore is not as difficult or arduous as some think it must be, conditions have improved dramatically and are continuing to do so.

On arrival at the rig you will be issued with safety boots, hard hat, safety glasses and coveralls. You will then be given a guided tour of the whole installation. Alarms, drills and muster points among other things will be explained to you.

A positive attitude will make life offshore much more enjoyable and may increase your chances of promotion. Keep focused on why it is that you are working out there and the plus points of the job. Everyone has different reasons and goals that bring them to the offshore industry.

You will work a twelve-hour day with a break in the morning, lunchtime and afternoon. "Tea shacks" are at various places throughout the rig and at designated times filled rolls or cakes etc. are provided. For your lunch you will take off work gear and go into the galley. The food is usually very good quality with a wide selection at every mealtime. The catering crews on some rigs organize theme nights with Chinese or Mexican food making up the majority of choices on the menu.

Quiz nights may be a weekly event, often held after the safety meeting and perhaps involving a small prize.

Offshore installations operate 24 hours a day, so depending on your job you may have to do night shift. With some jobs you may have to do a combination of days and nights. There are different systems used usually dependent on helicopter arrival times and company policies. Often you will start your "trip" on day shift and then move to night shift on your final days before going home. For example if you do two weeks on-two weeks off, you may do a week of days and a week of nights.

Off shift facilities vary from rig to rig. In the past there may only have been a packet of cards and a couple of dog-eared novels as rig leisure equipment. Today most rigs have a cinema showing satellite TV and a selection of videos, which are updated regularly, others also have TVs in every room. Many have excellent gym and sauna equipment. Others have table tennis, computers with Internet link and computer game consoles.

It is a great feeling to step off a rig with two or three weeks off. Some people travel half way round the world to their work.

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