Release date: 12 December 2016
t’s been 10 years since the massive hull of Greater Plutonio was eased carefully into position above the oil and gas reservoirs of Block 18 offshore Angola, leading to BP’s first operated production from the southern African nation. In this anniversary year, the vessel has another occasion to celebrate – 500 million barrels of oil have now flowed from these deepwater wells, through the FPSO’s processing plant and onwards for export to refineries across the world.
While the production milestone is reason to reflect on achievements of the past, the Greater Plutonio team also has an eye on the future. 2016 has seen the start of a comprehensive refurbishment programme to prepare the facility for the next ten years, at least, of operations.
“With our best year of production efficiency yet, we are now focused on regenerating the topsides and general fabric of the vessel,” says John Wallace, Greater Plutonio offshore installation manager (OIM). “The salty maritime environment is always extremely punishing to any metal structure, especially in the heat and humidity of the tropics. Heavy corrosion is a constant challenge here, however rigorous the maintenance regime.”
A team of 24 is dedicated to the renovation programme that includes renewing the vessel’s exterior surfaces, as well as making improvements to crew accommodation. “The target is to bring Greater Plutonio back to top condition for its next 10 years of life – and to look ahead even further,” adds Wallace.
Waterworld: how does Block 18's oil and gas reach the vessel?
As office staff in Luanda head home for the evening, the day teams on board Greater Plutonio look forward to their shift change, a shower, a meal in the cafeteria and bed in their cabins. The night shift is ready to take its turn managing the complex plant through the hours of darkness.
Operations continue around the clock, as they have done for a decade, in an intricately-organised environment that is supported by another 24-hour team 160 kilometres away in Luanda.
Those on the vessel are based there for a month at a time, then have a month’s break, a few travelling home to Alaska or the Far East.
The FPSO is much more than a complex technical structure; it houses all the facilities and amenities to keep its community of 160 staff in safety and comfort. The cafeteria serves three main meals a day, with refreshments also available at all hours. There’s a medical centre, gym, and lounge, complete with snooker table - although a game can take on a different dimension if affected by the rolling motion of the Atlantic swell.
Most days, there is a boat visit bringing personnel, or supplies and equipment that are transferred from BP’s onshore logistics base, where there is a round-the-clock back-up team.
The central control room is the hub of all activity on board. Here, the team monitors every process to extract oil and gas from beneath the ocean and prepare it for export by very large crude carriers that arrive every five days, each loading approximately a million barrels of oil.
Prior to this, the crude oil will have flowed upwards under pressure from the wells around 1,200 metres below the water’s surface. Those wells are scattered over the seabed in an area equivalent to the size of Greater London, all connecting to the FPSO riser by a 150-kilometre network of flow lines.
For those who take to it, life at sea becomes a daily routine broken by much-anticipated breaks away – and, as Luanda stirs itself to begin another day, the shifts change on board again and some 80,000 barrels of oil will have found their way into the cavernous storage tanks under the decks of Greater Plutonio.
“I joined BP in June 2003 through the apprenticeship technician programme. I was one of seven students who, due to our fluency in English, were the first to be sent abroad by BP in Angola.
Our journey began at the BP and Shell South African Petroleum Refinery in Durban, where we were introduced to the oil and gas industry through an intensive study in process, mechanical, electrical and instrumentation and controls disciplines.
Months later, we moved to the UK to study our respective disciplines at Hull College and BP’s Saltend Chemicals Park. It was a great learning experience to blend both college theory with hands-on practice in the plant – and interact with people from another part of the world.
I came home to Angola well-equipped with the right knowledge and skills to be part of the ground-breaking Greater Plutonio project in offshore Block 18. In 2006, having graduated in operations and maintenance engineering, I joined the operations readiness team at a shipyard in South Korea to prepare the massive FPSO for its departure for Angolan waters.
On completion of the construction, I took part in the second leg of the tow between Singapore and Cape Town, an exciting six-week journey. It was a unique experience. Upon arrival in Block 18 in February 2007, I started as a mechanical technician, handling the maintenance of the rotating equipment, alongside specialized field service engineers. When we had the much-anticipated first oil milestone – always a dramatic moment – it was truly ‘mission accomplished’.
After a stint as mechanical supervisor that required me to develop my leadership skills, I was appointed Greater Plutonio maintenance team leader in June 2012. The dramatic improvement in the vessel’s reliability and performance during the following period is among the highlights of my career. I was proud to be part of a team recognized for excellence internally in 2013 at BP’s group-level Helios Awards.
Since then, I’ve also had the opportunity to work on board BP Angola’s second offshore production facility – the Plutão, Saturno, Vénus and Marte (or PSVM) FPSO – which began operations in Block 31 in 2013.
Under BP’s education assistance programme, I’ve also continued to pursue my education and completed a Master’s degree in project management, oil and gas specialisation, from the UK’s University of Liverpool. It was challenging to balance work, personal life and education along the way – but the reward was worth it.
So far, my career has been an exciting journey. I am delighted to be part of BP Angola and am looking forward to the challenges ahead, with the opportunity to make a real contribution to the future of my country and my community through my work.”