Engineering the future: 'my first offshore project'

Last edited: 21 June 2018

Meet Esmira Qudratova. She joined the energy industry less than five years ago and has already worked on one of BP’s largest global projects, Shah Deniz 2 in Azerbaijan. A mechanical engineer by training, she’s seen and touched most of the project’s new infrastructure now sitting offshore. Here’s what she has to say about her experiences so far

I’m proud. I know people on the project who have been based in offices doing the design work, but have never touched the metal…

It is amazing to feel part of BP’s biggest project in 2018, Shah Deniz 2 in Azerbaijan. I’m 27 and only joined the industry five years ago, but I’ve been involved in almost every stage of activity for the offshore development: my journey began with subsea fabrication, followed by topsides commissioning at our onshore yard, and I then moved to the offshore hook-up and commissioning team.

It’s incredible – I’ve seen and touched almost every piece of equipment that is now sitting either on the seabed or located on the new offshore facility. I was part of a world-class team.

I wasn’t accepted onto the BP Challenge (graduate) programme straight away...

I graduated from the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy as a mechanical engineer. When I first applied for the Challenge programme, I was turned down – I don’t believe my language skills were good enough back then. But, BP enrolled me on its petro-technical resource entry programme, which offered international standard learning and development, including six months of Business English classes as well as technical modules.

As a result, I received a certificate from the UK’s Herriot Watt University and joined BP in 2014 when I was assigned to the Shah Deniz 2 project team. I have never looked back.

I’ve never even worked in our main office headquarters in Baku...

Throughout the project, I’ve been based at the fabrication site offices, before moving offshore. My first role was as project engineer in the subsea fabrication team where I managed contractors who were responsible for the subsea safety isolation valve skids (SSIV).  These are fitted to pipelines to protect the platform in case of an incident. I also worked on the flowline termination assembly (FTA), which is the component that a cluster of flowlines feed into on the seabed. 
 
These components have never previously been built in Azerbaijan, so I’m really proud to be part of that national first to fabricate the parts here at the Baku Deepwater Jacket Facility.

When a fabrication process becomes routine, it’s time to move on…

My manager explained that once I’d completed four out of the eight subsea safety isolation valve skids I had learnt all I could from that activity. During that time, I even won a BP regional competition called TechnoFest, after presenting my experiences on the fabrication team and beating 53 other Challengers to first place.

Next, I joined the topsides commissioning team, still at the onshore yard, which was totally different. This time, the responsibility wasn’t about assembling the component but function testing it to make sure it met the design standards.

It was quite a sight to witness preparations for the topsides sail-away…

Moving the enormous topsides structures from the yard onto a barge is a delicate and time-consuming process; we are talking weeks rather than hours.

Each topside needs to be ‘jacked up’, shifted into a load-out frame and pulled onto the barge, before finally being towed out to sea, floated over and made ready for the hook-up phase.One evening we left work and the topsides were there, the next morning one deck had disappeared – it had sailed at first light.

Two months later, the same thing happened with the second deck.

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Lift and shift: watch the topsides go offshore

I was the only woman working and living offshore during the hook-up and commissioning phase...

The Shah Deniz Bravo facilities are two bridge-linked platforms, one solely for quarters and utilities (QU) and the other called the process and risers (PR) platform for gas production. I joined the team offshore in August 2017, about a month after the hook-up started.

Before anyone can move onto the QU platform, it needs to be safe for habitation so a small crew worked to install sewage and water systems, as well as lifeboats and rafts. Just 20 days after the QU topsides sailed away offshore, they were ready for the team of 228 people to move on board to continue the hook-up and commissioning work.

My first trip offshore was another brand new experience; not only in terms of location but it was slightly strange to be the only woman there. I quickly adjusted though.

There was so much to do offshore to get the platforms ready for operations…

We had to finish the construction work first, but we couldn’t install the bridge between the two platforms until the PR deck had been floated over the jacket. Once that was complete, it allowed us to start several major activities simultaneously – such as installing flowlines and welding the 16 topsides legs to the jackets. Welding was one of the most time-consuming operations.

The commissioning teams then needed to recheck all the equipment previously pre-commissioned onshore – because parts can move during the preparations and operations for the sail-away and offshore installation.  My role in all of this was to liaise between the construction, commissioning and subsea teams; there was so much to learn.

I used to be an introvert, but I’ve definitely changed…

When I started I was shy and didn’t enjoy talking to new people. I initially found it hard to move teams between the different roles. But I quickly learned that people are happy to help and share their knowledge and experience.

My communications skills are so much better, and I’ve grown in confidence. I was very happy to win an early career advancement award from BP’s Global Projects Organization in late 2017. I couldn’t believe it.

As for my next role, I will move onto another project when this one is all finished, and we hand over responsibility to the operations team. But, for now, I still want to focus on the last bits of paperwork. People don’t find it the most exciting part, but we have to finish what we started.

And there will be more projects to come for me.

Confused by industry terminology? Here are some offshore basics …

  • Topsides: the upper half of a platform, the facilities that stand on the jacket above sea level.
  • Jackets: the steel frame or ‘legs’ supporting the topsides or deck of a platform.
  • Sail-away: when facilities are moved from their onshore fabrication yard to their offshore location via specialist barges or other vessels.
  • Hook up: the phase during final construction activities when connections are made between different parts of the facility, such as subsea flowlines that connect from the wellhead into the platform, in preparation for oil and gas production.
  • Riser: the pipe that connects offshore production structures (or drilling rigs) to a subsea system.
  • Flotel: an accommodation vessel used for offshore workers alongside a rig or platform.
     

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