Covid-19 results in minimum manning in the oil and gas sector

Louise Smyth

How has Covid-19 affected the oil and gas sector’s approach to staffing levels?

At the end of March 2020, OGUK figures showed a decrease in staff numbers on North Sea offshore installations of 40% due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) is now expecting the change in manning levels to last “quite a long time”.

As a result of the pandemic, operators have made changes to help keep workers socially distanced, implementing safety measures such as screens, single-occupancy cabins and staggered working hours, but this raises the question of whether the reduction in personnel leaves enough manpower to keep these platforms running in their current form.

What if platforms didn’t need people; just safe, reliable systems that could be operated remotely? What if the regular intervention required on normally unmanned installations (NUIs) was unnecessary and the operation of manned platforms could be streamlined down to minimum manning levels? This would not only reduce the risk of virus infection, but reduce the risk of injury or death from accidents, decrease costs incurred from living and transport arrangements, improve safety standards, mitigate mistakes caused by human error; and as a further benefit, drive vast improvements to operational efficiency.

Case study showcases how the oil and gas industry can adapt to the pandemic

In 2018, Servelec Controls achieved just this for Centrica Energy, in an innovative project coined ‘Simplification’. The catalyst for this change was a helicopter crash that tragically claimed seven lives, highlighting the risks to workers travelling offshore. Successful project delivery resulted in a vastly improved level of safety by removing personnel from unnecessary risk. The project also delivered a multitude of ancillary benefits ranging from reduction in operating and insurance costs which ultimately helped deliver a return on their £65million investment inside two years, whilst simultaneously extending the offshore asset life by a minimum of 15 years.

Having proved concept viability, Servelec Controls’ expert engineers are now working with other operators to transform their assets to be remotely operable, but who now have the added motivation of coronavirus spurring them to make rapid changes to protect their workers and their operational costs.

As well as the social distancing advantages of reduced personnel numbers this minimum manning solution provides a range of strategically transformative benefits, including: improved personnel safety through minimised intervention and removal of helicopter use; significant reduction in OPEX; and asset life extension. Other benefits are reduced intervention time and optimised operations through advanced, supportable and future-proof technology. Minimum manning offers a reduced risk profile that positively impacts the associated insurance costs.

The solution also enables the remote operation of offshore platform systems including alarm management, asset monitoring, fire and gas detection and control, as well as emergency shutdown, including black start and electrical system monitoring and remote control.

According to Chris Stones at Servelec Controls, the transformation of applicable offshore platforms to be remotely operable can provide owner/operators with the operational and financial efficiencies that will help them to adapt to today’s challenging market conditions.

“The disruptive and transformative use of technology can aid in current offshore oil and gas installations moving from manned to unmanned whilst being monitored & controlled from a remote on or offshore control centre,” says Stones.

Stones reveals that, “We are working with a number of UKCS owner/operators to develop and implement solutions that range from complete removal of on-board personnel to the achievement of safe minimum manning levels – both solutions deliver massive improvements in safety, efficiency and OPEX reduction.”

He concludes: “This all combines to extend the viable asset life and in turn help in the security of domestic energy supply.”

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