The offshore sector includes everything from oil and gas exploration and extraction, and telecoms and power cabling, to wind farms, wave power, and offshore minerals mining.
The offshore oil and gas industry is concerned with the recovery of crude oil and natural gas from beneath the seabed to meet the world’s energy needs. It involves the installation of platforms, the laying of pipelines and the transportation of fuels. The industry uses innovative technology and techniques to find and extract oil and gas. It takes a high-tech, multidisciplinary team effort. Engineers and scientists are needed to work both onshore and offshore. There are also jobs for skilled and semi-skilled workers. Running all the people offshore requires the same number ashore to manage, support and supply them. Concern for the planet has led to improvements in extraction methods in order to reduce environmental impact and more opportunities to work in offshore renewable energy supply.
What opportunities are there?
There are three main areas of work in the offshore oil and gas industry.
- Exploration – conducting surveys and tests to find worthwhile reserves of oil and gas.
- Field development – deciding how to extract the fuel, setting up production facilities and drilling wells.
- Production and maintenance – operating and maintaining equipment. There are jobs offshore on support vessels, platforms and drilling rigs and onshore at terminals servicing the equipment and constructing new platforms. There are also opportunties in engineering design, planning and project management. Some of the jobs in drilling are described below.
- Roustabouts do the basic labouring jobs, such as loading and unloading supply ships and helicopters and general maintenance.
- Roughnecks carry out the manual work of the drilling operation.
- Derrickmen work high up on the derrick (or steel tower) under the driller’s direction.
- Drillers operate the drilling equipment and direct the work of the drilling crew.
- Toolpushers oversee operations and may run the whole drilling rig, making sure work goes smoothly and that materials and equipment are available. Assistants to toolpushers are often graduates gaining experience.
- Mud loggers are highlytrained geologists who are alert to signs of precious hydrocarbons during drilling. Offshore installations also need production operatives, welders, electricians, mechanics, storekeepers, medical workers and cooks. There are also jobs for divers to maintain the platforms. The vessels in the offshore fleet (construction, drilling, seismic, supply and floating production vessels) all need deck and engineer officers, as well as crew. Some vessels and rigs can have hundreds of people on board, so they need lots of facilities and services.
Scientists and engineers mostly work in labs or offices onshore, but they may spend occasional spells on offshore installations. Geologists/geophysicists study underground structures using computers and analysing data from seismic surveys to assess the prospects of finding oil or gas. They prepare reports, charts and presentations for the contracting company. They may also work as mud loggers. Petroleum engineers apply principles of maths, physics, chemistry and engineering to the recovery and processing of hydrocarbons. Drilling engineers are responsible for the safe and efficient development, management and maintenance of drilling. Reservoir engineers work out systems to ensure that every last drop of oil is recovered from the reservoirs.
Subsea engineers design, install, maintain and operate engineering equipment on the seabed. Subsea wells and processing systems must be installed at depths using remotelyoperated equipment. Pipeline engineers are involved in the installation and maintenance of rigid and flexible oil and gas pipes. Where there are no pipelines taking products ashore, floating production, storage and offloading vessels are used to process the oil from the wells and transport it to export pipelines or shuttle tankers. Structural engineers, naval architects and project managers design, plan and manage the construction, installation, operation and maintenance of offshore platforms and vessels. Deck and engineer officers run the vessels in the offshore fleet. Graduate engineers and scientists are also involved in new challenges, such as harnessing sustainable energy from wind, waves and currents. Equipment has to be designed, built, installed and operated safely and cost-effectively. You may find yourself working on exciting new projects, such as wave power energy generators.
What skills and personal qualities do you need?
To work offshore, you need:
- to be fit and strong (for manual work)
- to be reliable, responsible and very safety-conscious
- to be prepared to work outside in all weathers
- excellent teamworking skills
- for some jobs, leadership and project-management skills
- to be prepared to work on a shift basis and to cope with periods away from home. Offshore engineers need a broad knowledge of engineering, including structural design, materials technology, fluid dynamics and control systems.
What about entry, training and qualifications?
Before working offshore, you have to undergo an offshore survival course. Once employed, workers receive further safety training and, if appropriate, training in firefighting. The minimum age for working on an offshore installation is 18. Basic offshore labouring work usually requires no formal qualifications, but relevant craft or technician experience or training helps. Advanced Apprenticeships for technicians are available. These involve around 18 months’ training onshore, then two years’ training at an offshore or onshore oil and gas facility. Applicants need at least four GCSEs grades A*-C, or equivalent, including english, maths and a scientific/technological subject. Apprentices work towards a relevant NVQ level 3 and an HNC.
Most engineers and scientists have degrees in a branch of engineering, chemistry, physics, maths, geology or geophysics. For higher education entry requirements, see page 34. It is possible to take a more specialist course, especially at postgraduate level. For instance, there are postgraduate courses accredited by the IMarEST in offshore, pipeline and subsea engineering and in renewable energy. Check that the course you are considering is suitable for the career you have in mind. Further training is usually on the job and through short courses. Chartered and Incorporated Engineer and Engineering Technician status is available to suitably qualified, experienced and competent engineers via a number of professional bodies including the IMarEST and the Energy Institute. Chartered Marine Scientist and Chartered Marine Technologist status is available for other science and technology professionals via the IMarEST.
Who are the typical employers?
- international oil and gas companies
- companies involved with renewable energy
- offshore contractors
- engineering design consultancies
- drilling, maintenance and specialist service contractors
- mud analyst firms
- suppliers of materials and equipment.
What about future prospects?
There’s a shortage of skilled workers in the industry. With the right experience, abilities and personality, promotion is possible at all levels. For instance, it could take just a few years to progress from a roughneck to driller. Apprentices usually progress to supervisory posts. Professional engineers may move into management positions. Many countries want to harness their own supplies of energy, so there are opportunities to work almost anywhere in the world.
Where can I find out more?
- British Wind Energy Association – www.bwea.com
- Cogent SSC – the UK’s Sector Skills Council for the industry. www.cogent-careers.com
- Energy Institute – tel: +44 (0)20 7467 7100. www.energyinst.org.uk
- Engineering Council UK – tel: +44 (0)20 3206 0500 – contact for information on the standards required for Engineering Technician, Incorporated Engineer and Chartered Engineer status, or see: www.engc.org.uk
- The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST) – tel: +44 (0)20 7382 2600. www.imarest.org
- The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) – tel: +44 (0)20 7824 5520. Website has careers information, links to members around the world and lists approved training providers: www.imca-int.com/careers.
- Oil & Gas UK – the industry’s trade association – tel: +44 (0)20 7802 2400. Website has educational information and lists vacancies: www.oilandgas.org.uk
- The Science Council – tel: +44 (0)20 7922 7888. www.sciencecouncil.co.uk
- Society for Underwater Technology – tel: +44 (0)20 7382 2601. www.sut.org.uk
- Information on offshore Apprenticeships can be found on: www.oilandgastechnicians.com Information on working in the oil and gas industry can be found on: www.oilandgas4u.com Careers information, including profiles of those working in the oil and gas industry can be found on: www.ceg.org.uk/talkingjobs You can get an idea of the available opportunities in the offshore oil and gas industry worldwide on: www.oilcareers.com The following website has links to relevant vacancy and course websites: www.petroleum.co.uk.