BG Group details plans for offshore platform efficiency
The oil and gas producer BG Group has become the first to explain in detail how it intends to make its offshore platforms more efficient.
Thousands of jobs have been lost by operators and supply chain firms over recent months as companies try to re-inject life into the mature North Sea basin.
Significantly reducing "dead time" on installations and empowering the offshore workforce to carry out its own logistics and planning are two key strategies by BG.
A leading offshore union has welcomed the approach, and urged others to follow the same efficiency model rather than simply slashing jobs.
The company is about to embark on the second phase of a £317m investment in its Lomond and Everest platforms, 140 miles east of Aberdeen.
The North Everest gas platform - which began producing in the early 1990s - has already reached the end of its predicted life.
It exports up to 135m cubic feet of gas per day and acts as a hub for CATS (Central Area Transmission System), a 250-mile pipeline to a processing terminal in Teesside.
'The right kit'
A flotel capable of providing accommodation for 300 people has been positioned alongside the installation, and a shut-down of the production facility will begin within weeks.
BG says investment in the massive overhaul - to extend life by a decade - will only be profitable if it can achieve greater efficiency.
Engineer Jessica Hallahan said: "If we focus on things like materials management and planning and scheduling then we should start to get better efficiency.
"We'll be able to turn up to the job, we'll know what we are going to do, we'll have all the right kit, we'll have the right people on board and we'll be able to get on with the job rather than being stuck."
The normal practice until now has been for the planning and scheduling of maintenance work to be carried out by logistics coordinators - often highly paid - who are based onshore.
A big frustration among workers offshore was that key components for the job were missed leaving them unable to carry out the work.
Ms Hallahan adds: "There can definitely be a lot of dead time so if it's a routine job we should be able to get on with it ourselves but for jobs that we need vendors for, or specialist material, sometimes that can take quite a lot longer.
"Having that empowerment offshore should make it much easier for us to get on with things."
During a visit to the North Everest platform it becomes clear the ravages of the North Sea have taken their toll.
Many miles of pipework are caked in thick red rust and much of this is to be removed or replaced.
With ever rising operating costs and the fall in the oil price, drastic options were seriously considered for Lomond and Everest before the investment was sanctioned.
BG Group's vice president of operated assets, Steven Cox, said: "If we didn't do this work on this platform and reduce our cost base then this platform would be looking to decommission in the next five years, at most.
"We are really putting this flotel campaign in place to make sure the platform is safe to operate. The efficiencies are really to make sure this platform remains economic for as long as possible.
"The case for change is very apparent and this is not just about a low oil environment, this is about these platforms no longer making as much money as they did at the height of their production."
'Refreshing to hear'
There has been a steady flow of announcements about job losses within the industry since the oil price began to fall.
It is thought thousands of staff and contractor posts have already been lost with many more expected to go.
Jake Molloy, from the offshore branch of the RMT union, said: "It is refreshing to hear BG talk about reducing costs by tackling efficiency. I hear complaints from people who go offshore and sit around for two weeks because the kit isn't around.
"There are a lot of savings to be made by what BG is doing and that is engaging with the workforce.
"You don't deliver efficiency by just cutting jobs."
Inevitably efficiency changes will result in job losses, whether in house or through contractors.
BG says in its case the numbers are small and mainly contract roles.