Tim Magee, Head of HSE in Kurdistan.
In most walks of life being on solid ground is thought to be a more stable habitat than working at sea, but it is clear from Maersk Oil’s latest involvement in onshore operations that the variety and unpredictability of challenges on terra firma are just as significant. Operating on land has some obvious advantages. For example, access to the worksite requires less effort than offshore, and the opportunities for building relationships across the office functions and worksite can be easier. “Relationships are the foundation of everything. When we have close interaction between field and office, conversations become less formal,” explains Tim Magee, Head of HSE in Kurdistan. “We get a better understanding of what is going on and we spot and address problems quicker,” he adds. With greater physical accessibility follows a higher public profile, and as such, the impact of onshore operations is immediately apparent, in and around the communities nearby. In Kurdistan, the rig sites and the access roads can be viewed clearly from the flight path of the frequent passenger flights overhead. This means responsibility related to operating in close proximity to neighbors and local communities is an ever present priority. Of course, in the early stages of exploration and development, construction activities are an obvious sign of the operator’s presence, but the working relationship with the community has an instantaneous impact too. Magee explains: “The operator has to have an inclusive, collaborative and informative approach. We want to work with the community that we are in. Viewing things from the perspective of the community, making sure expectations are aligned and clear and keeping promises are absolutely critical.” “And it is no easy matter. In Kurdistan we have complex communities with villages being semi-autonomous entities. Our relationship with them is critical to both security and operations – a community can and will stop operations if they are unhappy with the operator’s behaviour,” says Magee. Tim Magee relishes a challenge and Kurdistan hasn’t failed to deliver. Taking stock of a situation and promtly getting on with the job at hand is an attitude well placed in supporting Maersk Oil’s involvements in this rugged territory, where he has the task of working with the operator to ensure safe and reliable operations. “There is a great variety in the challenges on land. Building relations is one important aspect, but in practical terms we also deal with improving the safety of road transportation, overseeing construction work and working around the challenges the local climate can throw at us,” Magee says. Mountain to overcome
The elevation change from Erbil to the rig sites can be in excess of 1,000 metres, and the climate varies dramatically over a steady climb or descent in altitude. Over a six kilometre stretch it is not uncommon to encounter a 300m vertical change, which means a vehicle may start its journey in clear, frost-free, conditions and end in several feet of snow at the rig site. The drilling rigs are typically around 1,500 metres above sea level. The rig and camp must be winterised in order to continue operating throughout the colder months, when temperatures can plummet to 20 degrees below freezing. Earth moving equipment must be kept on site, ready to clear away heavy snow falls. Yet, no matter how well prepared, the elements can close in rapidly. This happened in January when the most exposed rig site experienced a 2½ metre snow fall in less than two days. “With that amount of snow it took a couple of days to clear the access road to the rig. Everybody needed to stay at the site. Had anybody gotten injured we would not have been able to move them. That’s why we have highly trained and experienced paramedics complete with a fully equipped clinic on site – to keep people alive in case we can’t get them out,” explains Magee. Because movement at and from the rig site was so limited it was necessary to shut down drilling operations until access was cleared. This was partly because of the increased risk of accidents due to the extreme conditions, and partly due to the inability of people to evacuate from the site in the event of a problem at the well. The site underground contains hydrogen sulphide-rich gas, and normal emergency evacuation plans in case of an uncontrolled emission were voided by the weather conditions. Moving about on land
In the oil business it is not unusual to have to clear access roads from war debris such as unexploded ordnance or land mines, before construction and operations can begin. Even with roads cleared, staying safe while moving about is one of the biggest challenges of land operations in Kurdistan. “First of all there is heavy traffic, a lot of it by drivers who may have been driving very long hours and who may not have received any formal training. Secondly, the terrain is mountainous. It really is 3D terrain and you can never be quite sure what is coming around the next bend or over the next hill. Driving in those circumstances is very demanding – it’s white knuckle stuff really,” elaborates Magee. Maersk Oil aims to ensure that people are properly trained for driving in such conditions, and realises that a high degree of competency and situational awareness is the best approach. In addition, building on the experience from Kazakhstan and Kurdistan, a road transportation standard is being launched as part of Maersk Oil’s Global Management System. “The least we can do is to ensure that our onshore experiences become firmly grounded in the corporate memory,” Magee concludes.
The elevation to the rig sites can be greater than 1 kilometre from Erbil, which means weather conditions can vary greatly.