Buzzard has an estimated 550 million barrels of recoverable reserves, making it one of the largest discoveries in the UK sector of the North Sea in decades. The field is expected to reach peak production of 190,000 to 200,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day by 2008–2009. As a well engineer, Kirsty Sneddon is responsible for brine injection down the well to aid in oil recovery by maintaining the well pressure.
How did Sneddon become a well engineer?
Sneddon started off by studying chemical engineering at university, but when she graduated there were very few jobs, so she returned to university to do a postgraduate course in subsea engineering.
She then went to work for a Danish company for three and a half years in an onshore supporting role and finally went offshore in 2000–2001. She enjoys what she does, “I am not the office type anyway,” she says.
The offshore industry is booming at the moment and there are not really enough people. “The prospects are good and it is a good time to be working in the industry,” says Sneddon, who would like to move into gas production later on in her career in a more senior role.
What is it like working offshore as a well engineer?
Life on the platform is different in that you have all the facilities but they can be rather cramped. 12-hour shifts onboard the platform are the norm, but there are leisure facilities such as a gym, satellite television and a snooker table. Sneddon’s work rotation is currently is two weeks on the platform, and then two weeks off. Sometimes you can get fogged in and have to stay over for several days, or if work demands you have to stay on.
“There is a move to change the rotation to two weeks on and three or even four weeks off and the Danish and Norwegians have done this for a long time,” she explains.
What advice could she give to prospective well engineers?
Sneddon’s advice is to do a specific qualification such as mechanical engineering or chemical engineering at university. Also now is a very good time to get into the industry as the major oil companies are very keen to provide training as they need a lot more people.
There are a lot of opportunities at present, but you need to be reliable and flexible in your outlook as you might have to stay over on the platform. You have to be aware that it is a stressful environment and the work can be quite hard so for a large part of your 12 hours off you may be sleeping.