Extracting oil from under the sea

Name: Micheal Halton
Age: 23
Job title: Commissioning Engineer
Qualifications: Chemical & Bioprocess Engineering, University College Dublin, Ireland
Employer: BP
Where you live: Aberdeen, Scotland

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I chose to work in the oil and gas industry as I understand how important the industry is to the world we live in today.

The oil and gas produced from projects around the world is used to heat homes, to generate electricity and to produce thousands of everyday products which we take for granted. They form the raw material used to manufacture almost all chemicals including plastics, paints, detergents and even medicines.

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It is important to reduce our use of oil and gas as fuels to protect the environment but the demand for crude oil to produce synthetic materials means that we’ll need these raw materials for a very long time. A single sofa can contain 60 liters of oil while 40 percent of all textiles contain oil. This is without even considering all of the products made using machinery lubricated by oil.

So what do I do? I work in Aberdeen as a commissioning engineer with BP on the Quad 204 project for the West of Shetland. The Quad 204 project is made up of a “floating production storage offloading” (FPSO) vessel, which is connected to subsea (underwater equipment and technology used to extract oil from beneath the sea bed) through flexible pipes called risers which then link up with flowlines (pipe lines) that bring oil and gas to the FPSO.

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The oil is then taken away by tanker while the gas is piped back to land or recycled, which helps to increase the amount of oil you can extract from the sea bed. The FPSO is currently being manufactured in South Korea and once it is completed it will be towed to the North Sea. It’s really exciting to work on a project which has been worked on by teams from all over the world.

The role of my team (commissioning team) is to ensure the systems on the FPSO will be safe and functional when they start extracting oil and gas from under the sea. We look at how the different systems on the vessel are connected and how they will work together

It’s like knocking down a line of dominoes. It’s very important that everything is completed in a logical sequence so that nothing is missed which will be required later on by another system. As you can imagine with a project as large and complex as Quad 204, this is not an easy task.

When I finished school, I chose to study chemical engineering at university as I really enjoyed maths and chemistry, and engineering seemed to give me the broadest range of career opportunities once I had graduated.

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I completed my degree at University College Dublin, Ireland, and spent my third year studying in the University of California, Berkeley. This was a great way to experience a different culture and country while continuing my engineering education.

Engineering is used and studied throughout the world, meaning that as an engineer there are global career opportunities which allow you to travel around the world. The other great thing about studying engineering is the group work you complete which really helps to build friendships with classmates and makes learning much more enjoyable and varied.

As a graduate of chemical engineering, I have the potential to work in every imaginable industry, from microchips to food, to oil and gas. It’s really exciting to have that range of potential careers.

Working as an engineer is incredibly varied. There are many competing considerations and demands which make every day different, with new challenges coming up which require creativity and ingenuity to overcome. This could involve working on improving safety when completing routine tasks, or it could involve trying to keep costs low when completing big projects featuring different groups.

The work can sometimes be technically challenging while at other times it requires good communication skills. You need to be able to demonstrate that an option is the right choice and show that there are appropriate safeguards in place. The aim is always to do things as safely as practical while keeping costs to minimum.

The world we have is built on crude oil and natural gas and it’s hard to imagine what the world would be like without them. Becoming an engineer gave me the opportunity to understand this and now I have the chance to work towards making it better.


Useful links

Engineering at University College, Dublin