An offshore oil rig, a floating city on the ocean, is a city that never sleeps. Looming over passing ships, it works silently around the clock, performing its functions far away from the nearest coast.
There are numerous resources on how the oil rig works, the equipment on board, and qualifications to join such a rig.
But has anyone considered the lifestyle and daily routine of someone living and working on an oil rig?
Though you must have heard about life on this wonderful floating platform, there are few things you might not be aware of.
The first thing to note is that life on an oil rig is not a party and is in fact a gamble with one’s own life.
Though the sentence might sound a bit exaggerated, it is not all untrue, for one constantly encounters harsh working conditions while offshore on an oil rig.
In this article, we will discuss the exciting and dangerous life of a worker on an oil rig.
Looking for a Life At Sea & The Origin of Oil Rigs
Five hundred years ago was the time when the demand for oil was much higher than its supply. Besides collecting the oil seeping through the ground through land oil wells, companies in the oil industry started exploring beyond and developed drilling technology to tap crude oil below the sea bed.
It was in the Gulf of Mexico that the concept of open water drilling first gained traction. This resulted in the first offshore oil well structure.
News spread and ever since new fields have been discovered including in the Scottish waters and the North Sea.
So why is there so much demand for offshore oil rigs and crude oil?
Most appliances these days are powered by conventional energy methods, which are largely dependent on fossil fuel energy.
It involves the combustion of these fuels to indirectly power factories, industries, cars, habitation sites, etc. The alternatives are natural resources such as wind, water, and solar-based power sources.
However, the highest rate of efficiency at the present level of technology undoubtedly belongs to fossil fuels.
Coming to why offshore oil rigs have become a common sight, the reason lies in the effects of drilling on land.
The sheer size of land required to maintain such an operation only compounds the problem of having an ever-expanding population without enough area.
Moreover, an accidental oil leak or sub-surface vent formation could potentially contaminate freshwater resources and lead to health issues for the surrounding regions.
Moreover, once an oil well is drained off all resources and capped, the rig will have to be dismantled and scrapped. The cost of changing location is far too great.
On the other hand, offshore oil rigs solve a multitude of problems in one go. For instance, they do not occupy land reserved for industries or habitation.
Special technology has been developed to prevent an accidental leak or blow out at such facilities, thereby nullifying the chances of water contamination. Lastly, they can be towed across different locations after an existing oil well has been drained.
People have been instrumental in the safe and efficient operations of these massive oil rigs. They handle a variety of tasks- from engineering to assistive.
For instance, specialists and inspectors ensure the rig is in working order, engineers work to rectify any potential flaws, and auxiliary staff keep the entire crew fed and provide other services.
While people are fundamental to the functioning of these rigs, efforts are being made to gradually shift to a safer and more remote alternative. This way, only absolutely essential visits would be required.
The Life Of A Worked On An Oil Rig
Life changes dramatically for one who decides to step foot in this industry. Earlier, life on an offshore oil rig was arduous and difficult but there has been significant changes and improvements in the living conditions.
One needs to get outfitted to start work on the rig and hence safety glasses, hard hats, coveralls and steel-toed boots are issued on arrival.
Regular safety training is conducted before and during employment.
The work designated to a rig worker usually falls on 8-12 hour shift with breaks for food in the morning, noon and night. One might have to do night shifts since this industry operates 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
While this may seem tough, a two-week work session on the rig will earn the worker a holiday of almost three weeks. This is meant to compensate for the hard physical labour on board the offshore platform.
And while onboard a rig, one need not worry about food, laundry or accommodation. Rooms with bunk beds are a common sight, as it saves on precious space and fosters a sense of camaraderie with one’s colleagues.
Also, the rig has designated smoking zones where safety matches are provided to smokers to ensure safety compliance at all times.
Cinema halls, televisions in every room, a fully-kitted gymnasium, indoor sports facilities like table tennis, computers with internet are some other added benefits one enjoys on the rig.
A few decades earlier, rig staff could make calls back home only once in a fortnight, with the call times limited.
But with the advent of superior mobile and broadband technology, oil rigs are well equipped to provide the staff with the various comforts of the internet, including uninterrupted and unlimited voice calls and a super-fast Wi-Fi connection.
While the job might sound very interesting and rewarding, one point to keep in mind is the risk associated with it
The environment in which the rig works is very hostile as the nature of these operations unfortunate tragedies and accidents.
Fluids that are highly inflammable are drawn out of the earth, some part of which is burnt in slack flares to separate poisonous sulfide gas. There is always the chance of accidental exposure to these chemicals, which can have severe consequences.
Dangerous and heavy machinery is operated at all times and work is even carried out at extreme heights despite whatever the climatic condition is, stormy or windy.
Be it for a worker on the rig or off rig workers like the paramedics, housekeepers, and caterers etc., life on an oil rig is exciting and exhilarating, while it also has its own fair share of danger.
With newer and safer systems, the risks involved have drastically decreased. Nevertheless, caution is advised at all times, and the best operating practices must be followed.
A Typical Day of a Crew Member on Board an Oil Rig
Work shifts on an oil rig are dependent on your time of arrival and state of work at that point. Thereafter, you are assigned a 12-hour shift to work on, and then a 12 hour off period.
The exact time can vary since it depends on the type of work you specialize in. Since you are on the rig for 2 full weeks with limited sources of entertainment, the company often puts you to work for longer periods of time, with adequate breaks in between. So, it may be possible that you stay up for nearly 16 hours and then sleep for the remaining 8 hours.
While this may shock many of you as inhumane working hours, remember that any time not spent sleeping on an oil rig is termed “working”.
So, mealtimes are included in this period, and so are designated relaxation times intended to improve staff welfare. To ensure no time is wasted, a roster with a detailed schedule is prepared for each crew member on board and is strictly followed.
Since your “day” might start at midnight, the oil rig follows a 24-hour operational system. This is a typical day of a worker beginning the 12 am shift in this system:
1. 2330 hours, previous day: Wake up, and arrange gear for the shift.
2. 0000 hours: Major meal 1. Punch in for a shift and receive instructions for the “day”.
3. 0200 hours: Break1, as the work is demanding and needs regular breaks for recuperation.
4. 0400 hours: Break 2.
5. 0600 hours: Major meal 2.
6. 0800 hours: Personal time.
7. 1000 hours: Break 3.
8. 1200 hours: Break 4.
9. 1400 hours: Major meal 3.
10. 1530 hours: End of day. Last break for the shift.
11. 1600: Prepare for the next day, have a light snack, and then to bed.
We can observe that while it may seem long, the day is actually filled with breaks intended to give the workers a gap. Moreover, during the work hours, they can also take a few minutes to talk to their family on the shore, catch up with their colleagues, or prepare a snack from the ever-full pantry.
Training Courses and Education for Life on an Oil Rig
Working on an oil rig is not a simple task a layperson can attempt. The machinery used is unique to this field, the type of work is different, and the physical intensity can be challenging. This is the reason why most oil and gas companies have a long list of qualifications and requirements for their staff.
The engineers will need degrees or certification in designing robust offshore structures, with special attention paid to stability and other factors.
Workers who handle mechanical repairs, instrument installation, welding etc. need certifications in handling heavy equipment and specialized machinery.
For instance, offshore and marine welders have a comprehensive collection of courses and certifications that are required for them to work in this industry.
Lastly, operations and logistical experts have to factor in a plethora of variables into their computations- including weather conditions, man-hour requirements, safety guidelines, physical working conditions etc.
While companies often train their employees in these skills, they are also on the lookout for proactive individuals with certifications. This helps them to stand apart from the crowd and offers them prior experience in the field.
Connecting with the Mainland
Connecting to the mainland is always important for any offshore work. It serves as the nearest source of replenishment, equipment, and aid in case of an emergency. That is why all companies in this industry pay special attention to how they plan the logistics behind mainland transportation.
The most common method of transporting crew, staff, and equipment are using specialized modified VTOL helicopters. Reputed helicopter manufacturers include Airbus and the Bristow Group. There are different classes of such aircraft that serve different purposes.
Light helicopters handle pure passenger transport limited to less than 10 people including the pilot. This is used for ferrying small groups from the shore, or for inspecting offshore pipelines with a small crew. They can carry essential supplies but no hanging load.
Medium helicopters have 2 main variants. The passenger variant handles larger groups of passengers, often being used for a shift-change operation with 15 people.
The cargo variant can handle larger loads and even mid-sized hanging loads.
Heavy-duty copters can transport large equipment, hanging loads, and passengers up to 20 individuals. They are used for more robust and heavy-duty operations.
VTOL refers to Vertical Take-Off and Landing, meaning that the craft is able to rise or drop vertically without any off-centre motion. This is perfect for tight manoeuvring in locations with restricted space. There is also a lesser chance of the helicopter tail striking any equipment.
These helicopters operate in the following steps to drop goods and passengers at an offshore site:
The helicopter approaches the helipad upwind of the flare stack. This is to prevent noxious fumes from overwhelming the engine system and passengers.
If it has an undercarriage hanging load, it is gently lowered onto the deck and then decoupled. Thereafter, the ground crew removes the cargo. The decoupler is an important component, as it is used in emergencies to rid the helicopter of the excess cargo load.
Finally, the helicopter touches down on the helipad once it is clear. They use navigation systems plus hand and light signals from the ground crew to safely land.
Other than aircraft, the other method of connecting offshore platforms to land are via boats. These are less preferred, as an approach to large offshore platforms can be a safety issue.
Nevertheless, smaller platforms also have a fleet of dedicated motor-powered boats that can be used to quickly ferry goods, conduct inspections, or recover equipment from the sea.
Crew members on board the transport vessel need to climb the buoyancy columns of these rigs to reach the main deck, although elevators are common in modern times.
Salaries and Perks for Staff on an Oil Rig
Despite the tough lifestyle of a crew member on an oil rig, it is a satisfying opportunity to be at the forefront of an ever-evolving and complex industry. Rest assured, the work these experts perform can only be handled by a select few. There are numerous perks for workers on an oil rig, besides the high salary.
The pay is unparalleled, considering they handle state-of-the-art equipment that needs prior experience. There is also an opportunity to work at different locations spanning different regions and continents. For those who enjoy being at sea, this is an excellent opportunity to witness its beauty firsthand.
As work usually progresses for 2-3 weeks per shift, they receive an equal amount of time off once their shift is completed. This means you can spend time with your family once you are off-duty.
While you may occasionally be required to report to an office for briefings or team meetings, this time is reserved for you to relax.
As these workers leave their families and head to distant platforms, the parent company usually provides accommodation, a job to the spouse, or other family benefits. Moreover, there is a complete family insurance coverage.
Lastly, for an adventurer, this would be a dream-come-true occupation, as it allows you to work in a dynamic field that demands a lot, but also renumerates you for your hard work and commitment.
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