What is an Oil Rig and what happens there?
An Oil Rig is, essentially, a means of removing the oil from a reservoir and processing that oil for forward delivery to a refinery. The most prominent process is ‘separation’, as there is usually water associated with the oil when it is brought to the surface.
This separation is achieved by the measured use of demulsifying agents, temperature and vessel engineering, in combination with numerous outlying methods.
Essentially, the oil destined for a refinery should be a dry as possible and the water separated from the oil in the process should be as free from oil as possible, as it will become a waste product. On a rig based in the sea, this latter issue is particularly poignant, as the produced water will either be re-injected into the reservoir, or it will be pumped into the sea. There are strict regulations as to how much oil a rig is allowed to put into the sea and, in the UK sector, the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) regularly inspect all North Sea Operations to ensure they adhere to the regulations.
What does an Oil Rig look like?
Oil Rigs in the North Sea can take on many forms. Some stand on the sea bed, some float and are tethered to the sea bed. Those which are tethered to exhibit movement in response to the sea, but are extremely secure.
They are very functional structures, built to withstand the climate they exist in and, as such, they are not usually particularly pleasing to the eye. Sea rigs will exhibit extensive surface rusting as a result of the seawater.
Who works on the rigs and what do they do?
A rig cannot function without a solid infrastructure of workers, ensuring not only the function of the process itself, but also the welfare of the employees and the general maintenance of the rig.
As a result, there are a number of different groups working on a rig at any one time, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Operations staff (process)
- Stewards (housekeeping, laundry, meals etc.)
- Drilling team (during drilling operations)
- Medic (healthcare)
- Services (logistics, storage, materials)
- Scaffolders (temporary structures, barriers etc.)
- Maintenance (welders, painters, electricians etc.)
- Well Services (maintenance of wells)
All employees work together as one large team to ensure that the rig can function self-sufficiently. In addition to the specific roles that core crew members perform, they will also be required to perform an additional or emergency function. This could be as a member of the helideck crew (ensuring the safe landing and takeoff of helicopters), a member of the fire team or a very specific role, such as a gas tester.
What is the accommodation like?
The accommodation section of a rig is very functional. You will usually find the following, although not all rigs are the same:
- Cabins (bed, Shower, toilet, TV etc)
- Galley or mess (dining room)
- TV lounge
- Smoking TV lounge
- Locker room
- Health centre
- Recreation room (pool, snooker, darts etc.)
- Computer room
- Music room
- Bond (shop)
Usually the only place you are allowed to smoke on a rig is in the accommodation, but there are very strict rules about where you can do this for the safety and comfort of everyone on board.
Is it safe?
Every member of staff/crew has a responsibility to ensure their own safety and the safety of others. The operating companies are responsible for providing a safe place of work, but, ultimately, it is essential that the team work together to ensure ongoing safety on a rig.
There are regular safety meetings where any unsafe events are discussed, arising on that rig or on any other rigs across the world, to ensure that lessons are learnt and behaviour or equipment adjusted accordingly.
There is a weekly ‘muster’, which is an emergency exercise is conducted and all personnel on board react accordingly. This is to ensure that all personnel are fully aware of how to respond in a real emergency situation. It is a little like a fire drill onshore with the obvious added complexities.
All personnel are encouraged to react to any unsafe actions or events that they witness and each rig has a system which allows these to be reported, catalogued and responded to. In extreme situations, personnel are advised to call the platform emergency number or to activate the General Platform Alarm (GPA). Should this happen, the event is responded to in the manner rehearsed in emergency exercises.
All risks are managed in order to keep the risk ALARP (As Low As Reasonably Practicable) by the use of Permit to Work systems and strict Risk Assessment.