I knew I wanted to be an engineer when I was still at primary school because my dad was an engineer, so I got exposed to this world quite early on. Part of my motivation stemmed from an awareness of his career but also from things we did at home together, such as working on car engines and taking things apart. I realise I was lucky to get that exposure from home and I know that not everybody has this opportunity.
After finishing an MEng in engineering science at Oxford, I decided I wanted to work in internal combustion engine design, so I went to do a year at the Institut Français du Petrole (IFP) in Paris, to do a course on the subject. Whilst I really enjoyed it, almost every other course that IFP offered was for people who wanted to work in oil and gas, so I was surrounded by people doing geology, geophysics and reservoir engineering, for instance. The field was one I hadn’t previously explored and it appealed to me and upon completion of my course, I applied to the BP graduate scheme.
I am a senior reservoir engineer for the Schiehallion, Loyal and Foinaven fields, and I’m part of the North Sea reservoir development division. I’m based in the BP North Sea headquarters in Aberdeen.
Currently I am the project lead for the Quad204 Polymer EOR project which is seeking to increase the oil produced from the Schiehallion and Loyal fields by mixing a polymer with the water that is injected into the reservoir to maintain pressure and sweep the oil towards the producing wells. The polymer increases the viscosity of the injected fluid which results in a more efficient displacement of the oil in the reservoir and increases oil production. The polymer project is one of the options being considered to enhance the value of the Schiehallion and Loyal fields for years to come.
My job is office-based and is a mixture of computer simulation work, project management and working together with other engineers and other technical professionals. I am married and have three children and have worked part-time since 2002 so that I can balance my work with my family life. I am very lucky that BP has enabled me (and my husband) to work flexibly over the last few years. I don’t feel that part-time working has held me back at all. I have been a chartered engineer since 2007 and became a Fellow of the IMechE in 2016.
The Schiehallion and Loyal fields are currently undergoing a huge Quad204 redevelopment project which has been really exciting to be involved in. The old FPSO has been removed, a new one built and commissioned, subsea infrastructure replaced and we are about half way through drilling 20 new wells to extend the life of the fields. There has been no production for the last four years whilst this has been going on but we have now commenced field restart and it is going to be fascinating to see how the reservoirs and wells perform. The size of the project is immense and it has been a privilege to be involved in it.
While polymer EOR is a proven technology and has been deployed in hundreds of projects around the world, there are currently very few projects which have used polymer in an offshore setting, and each project faces its own unique challenges. I work with a dedicated team working to solve the reservoir, facilities and commercial challenges to make the project successful.
One big difference between reservoir and other branches of engineering is that we have to work with very sparse data and have very few direct measurements. Consequently, we have to be comfortable working with uncertainty – we need to know what we don’t know!
I would recommend a career in engineering to anyone who has a curiosity about how things work and enjoys logical thinking. Obviously maths and physics are important subjects to study at school, but I would also encourage people to look for opportunities to investigate how things around them are put together and how they work. Grab any chance to gain some work experience in an engineering company. I got work experience in a heavy engineering manufacturing company before and during my university studies, and I still draw on those experiences today. Successful engineering is about solving problems and making ideas work by understanding scientific principles and being able to apply them in real-world situations.