Life on remote platforms
Hard work and close quaters
What’s it like to live and work on a remote oil or gas platform? These are manmade structures at sea, and every centimetre of space has been designed to provide workers with safety, the tools they need and perhaps, after a hard day’s work, a few comforts.
Industrial areas take up the bulk of the platform space. This is where the drilling and pumping are done. In offices the facility’s works are monitored, safety records are kept and the day’s assignments are handed out. And then there are areas for eating, sleeping and relaxing, where the production technicians, crane operators, drill engineers, scaffolders, control room staff and others onboard spend their off-duty hours.
Every facility is different, but most platforms have dormitory-style sleeping quarters, visitor accommodations, a restaurant, a coffee house, as well as a cinema, gym and other recreation areas.
An oil and gas platform can be as tall as a skyscraper and as wide as a sporting stadium. More often than not, the view onboard is nothing but ocean, with simple blue lines along every horizon.
Keeping the platform safe and productive
The industrial areas of a production platform are noisy with rumblings from pipes, pumps and compressors. The air may smell strongly of oil and gas. Or the wind may blow so hard that it whips odours away instantly. The weather can be harsh. This far out in the open seas there is nothing to shield the facility from extremes of wet, ice, heat or cold.
To work here you need to wear a safety helmet, earplugs, protective clothing and plastic glasses. “Warning” signs and daily emergency drills help keep potential dangers top of mind, so that no one gets complacent. Shifts are long, up to 12 hours a day, with breaks built in to minimize fatique and avoid long-term exposure to noise. And each shift is followed by an equally long rest period.
After safety, the one thing on almost everyone’s mind is how to keep the oil and gas flowing at the best possible rate. Platform staff monitor equipment showing the pressure in the wells and pipes. In the control room, data fill computer screens while geologists and other onshore advisers stay in contact via video link. Based on the data and advice, the production crew might change the size of the filters the oil flows through or flush more gas or liquids through the wells to force more of the hydrocarbons out.
Of course, not everyone who works on a platform is directly involved in extracting oil and gas. Some cook the food, keep the facilities clean or help produce the electricity that keeps the whole operation running.
Filling the downtime
It’s not all work. After each long shift of up to 12 hours, platform workers take an equally long rest period. Bedrooms are compact and functional, much like the cabins on a ship. Usually two people share a room and sleep on bunks.
If watching a movie or sporting event on satellite TV isn’t enough to fill the rest periods, the sea offers its own entertainments. There might be whales to watch, or sea lions or migrating birds.
People come and go frequently from a platform, with one group of workers returning by helicopter or boat as another group leave for their own onshore break. In such close quarters, camaraderie is strong.
Working so far away from cities and conveniences isn’t for everyone. But among those who have done it for a while, some say they can’t imagine living any other way.