Call that a drilling rig?

Although not directly associated with my academic career, I often find myself offshore in remote parts of the world moonlighting as an Engineering Geologist aka. rock/mud licker! This summer I again ended up in the Indian Ocean at 4 in the morning, stood next to a Cornish driller, drinking copious amounts of tea whilst staring at a broken drilling rig!  Our highly professional staring formed just one aspect of the third stage of geotechnical investigations, being undertaken by WorleyParsons and project partners for Woodside Australia at James Price Point in Western Australia.

This article presents a very brief example of offshore life in Australia and my experiences of nearshore geotechnical drilling, that might be of interest for those of you looking to continue their careers outside of academia.

Offshore Life

As with any commercial project, the story begins with the extensive list of pre-project start up meetings, sign-offs and health and safety meetings. This included an all new online health and safety induction system that utilised avatars, ‘Bob or Becky’, to introduce the aspects of project safety within a computerised version of the town of Broome. After being run over by numerous fake cars and getting virtual sunburn, I completed my induction and was ready for my flight to actual Broome. Sporting a whole new approach to crossing the road and adopting a slightly less British attitude to the Australian Sun, I arrived at wharf ready to undertake my 5 weeks of 12 hour, back to back shifts, with no planned days off (slightly depressed).

Luckily it takes little time at all for a former British geologist to make comparisons with  working life in Australia. The weather is beautiful, the fish/marine life surround you is stunning (including the sharks), and you are getting paid well to eat good food and play with rocks and mud!  Home whilst offshore was the luxurious MV Fantasea Ammari that comes complete with sun-deck, swimming pool and a non-stop supply of food (including ice creams). As operations are 24hrs your room is shared with your back to back, but life is not too uncomfortable with on-suite facilities and daily changed sheets.

  

Nearshore Geotechnical Drilling

Although conditions aboard the Ammari were very comfortable, I unfortunately sometimes had to go to work.  Drilling offshore either occurs aboard a drilling vessel in deep sea conditions, where operations are conducted through a large hole in the ship (surely not a good idea), or aboard a working platform. For this operation two self-jacking working platforms (commonly known as Jack-up Barges) were utilised to advance boreholes from 10m to 80m below the seabed in water depths of up to 20m. For safety purposes each barge had their own on call fast response vessel and a fully qualified paramedic on 24hr call.

  

My principal role as the engineering geologist or ‘geo’ aboard the barge was to work alongside client representative in order to develop and test our ground model. This includes the initial review of all available data (logs and sections), undertaking preliminary stability assessments for the barge to reduce the likelihood of punch-throughs (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXMzS0kgeYM), directing and advising the drilling team in the methods of borehole construction (what tests to do and when), logging and preparation of the cores for travel to the laboratory in Perth, and often making tea/coffee when things broke down.

My views about working offshore are that, although times can often become strenuous, you generally have a brilliant laugh. You learn about all aspects of yourself (good and bad) that you only really discover in a highly contained and intimate environment.  In addition, you also learn so much about all aspects of marine operations, from the vessel masters who can turn a barge on a penny, to the drillers who, although on the surface seem to be in their own category of manliness, really do understand the ground in ways that as a geologist often hold you in awe.

I hope you have all enjoyed this very brief piece on my offshore experiences. If you have any questions about working on drilling rigs, in Australia or as an Engineering Geologist please do contact me.

Post written by Martin Geach

School of Geography

Earth and Environmental Sciences

Plymouth University

martin.geach@plymouth.ac.uk

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