Accessiblity Tools
From Trees to ROVs
10 Jan 2022

always had an interest in the sea

Originally from St Andrews in Scotland, Chris – now Spirit Energy’s Inspection, Repair & Maintenance Project Manager – spent his formative years diving with friends in the North Sea.

“I was not aware of the oil and gas industry when I was growing up, but as early as I can remember I was always fascinated by the explorer Jacques Cousteau, being underwater and diving,” Chris said.

“I have always had that interest in the sea – the North Sea was a bit too cold for me though, and I prefer to fish in it rather than swim in it these days!”

Chris’ passion for engineering and understanding how things worked grew at the same time, with the Project Manager’s first personal project being to remove the engine from his first car and replace it with one with a little more horsepower.

A spell studying engineering at Kirkcaldy Technical College followed, yet although the building blocks were there for a career in the energy sector from the start, it was actually a job as a lumberjack that took Chris to the north-east of Scotland and Europe’s oil capital.

“After college I actually joined the Forestry Commission as a trainee, and supplemented my income there with shifts in the local pub,” Chris said.

“That’s where I met some of the offshore workers who were back onshore – seeing and hearing their experiences, that was what really started my interest in the oil and gas industry.”

SET FOR HIS FIRST JOB OFFSHORE

After working his way through the necessary certifications, Chris was set for his first job offshore, and like so many joining the oil and gas industry in the 1980s he started with a drilling company as a roustabout – working on the drill floor, supporting the crews – before working his way up the career ladder. It was not until a downturn in the industry that his twin passions of subsea and engineering finally came together in his first inspection role.

Chris said: “I went offshore with a dive vessel and while I was there they were doing subsea inspections, and I took an interest in the dive control side of the operation. I studied the work they were doing, and ultimately joined as an Inspection Coordinator.”

Chris joined the inspection side of the offshore industry at a time when the new technology of unmanned, remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) was just breaking through – technology which has continued to evolve beyond recognition from the time of Chris’ first offshore trip.

“At that time, all subsea inspections were done by divers”, he said, adding: “It was the very early days of using ROVs, and they could be unpredictable and not as easy to handle as they are now.

“Then, divers were still preferred for this kind of work, but it was and still can be a dangerous job. Thankfully, we now have ROVs that are so advanced, even some that can replicate every movement of your arm, down to each finger.

“The progress of the technology in equipment being used up to 3km below the surface is incredible.”

REMOVING THE RISK TO PEOPLE AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Removing the risk to people and the environment is a theme which is fundamental to Chris’ role today, coordinating and leading on all of the inspection, repair and maintenance work on the subsea structures and pipelines operated by Spirit.

He said: “With platforms and the infrastructure above the sea, you can more easily see and identify equipment which may need repaired or replaced. All of this infrastructure is out of sight, and the risk then is that it also becomes out of mind – but this is some of the most critical infrastructure offshore.

“For us, it’s vital that it’s regularly inspected, and any work to keep it safe is then carried out – it may be more challenging when you’re underwater, but it’s no less important.”

Managing the complex task of inspecting pipelines – at Spirit’s Morecambe Bay fields for example, strong currents mean work needs to be carried out in tight time windows in a race against the tide – requires a joint effort, and is only possible with collaboration.

“For us, working closely alongside a supply chain with the right attitude is instrumental to our success,” Chris said.

“It means we can open up new ways to approach these challenges, keeping our people and our assets safe and at the same time maintaining production on platforms which keep energy flowing into the countries where we work.”