The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

{June 21, 2011}   I should be so lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky

When I chose to do a degree in engineering I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do with it, but what I hoped was that it would get me behind the scenes of the engineering feats and factories that fascinated me. I wanted to travel, see new places – especially places that the general public don’t get to see, and get an understanding of ‘how stuff works’.

Well, if that was the definition of what I wanted out of my career then last week certainly hit the nail on the head. In my new role as a Project Engineer I travelled down to Dorset to visit some of the BP sites that my company is working on.

Whilst I was there, in my high-vis orange fire retardant boiler suit, I felt like a little kid visiting Disneyland. Everything looked so exciting, from the Princesses Castle (aka the drilling rig), to the rollercoasters (all the massive lengths of pipework) and the even Animal Kingdom Park (otherwise known as the Site of Special Scientific Interest that is Furzey Island).

I loved the isolated beauty of Goathorn Peninsula, and I was really impressed by how discretely BP have hidden their wellsites amongst the landscape, having as little environmental impact as possible. It was great fun to be driven around the lovely little forest lanes to discover well sites. Once we were safely checked into them, having given up our mobile phones, cameras, cigarette lighters and anything else that could possibly act as a source of ignition, it was amazing to walk around the network of pipes each wider than my shoulders, it was also great to get up close to the big ‘nodding donkeys’ – i.e. beam pumps.

Less beautiful, but equally important and very striking was the oil terminal at Hamble. The tanks there, where they pump all the crude oil before sending it away to be refined, are absolutely immense. I mean truly enormous. The diameter of just one of these is about the same as the length of an Olympic swimming pool! In addition to this they are about twice the height of a double decker bus!

By far my favourite place of last week though was Furzey Island, anywhere you have to get on a boat to get to has to be exciting surely? I found it really quite incredible to be able to look in one direction and see a manor house, big old trees, lots of little birds and a red squirrel:

And then to turn around 180 degrees and see some of the biggest machinery I have ever seen in my life. Well you don’t get that kind of experience many times in your life. On the island one of the current projects is to re-drill and refurbish one of the existing wells to turn it into a water injection pipe. BP maintains the pressure in the oil reservoirs by replacing the oil they’ve removed with water. To enable them to do that there is currently a drilling rig on site, it looks sort of like a smaller version of the Blackpool/Eiffel/Tokyo Tower – tall with lots of structural steel! Never mind the size and height of the tower though, the amount of associated equipment it needs is stunning, especially given the size of it – just one of the tanks was probably big enough to fit my old flat in.

Yet – apart from the temporary drilling rig – unless you were looking directly at it you wouldn’t know it was there. BP have done a sterling job of creating bunds to protect the surrounding environment, keeping all of the tanks and pipework below the level of the trees, keeping machinery quiet and painting everything ‘Van Dyke Brown’. So that made it all the more of an exciting insight into this essential corner of oil drilling and production.

Yes, all of these things need to be treated with a lot of care and respect because the flammable nature of oil and gas means that you need to pay attention to the safety measures to keep things safe. But to me that just makes it all the more awesome…and I mean that in the true sense of the word, it all fills me with awe.

I feel very lucky to have my job right now, and very glad that I worked so hard to get to it!


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