Over the last 100 years the oil industry and its workers have pushed in to harsh frontiers throughout the world, which includes: working in jungles, exploring isolated lakes, and working on offshore sites located in Arctic regions. The result of this: A multi-generational class of workers who have had to learn/adapt to operate in remote and harsh environments. Because of this, working on international assignments during one’s career is common in the oilfield. However, not all assignments are in politically stable and economically developed regions of the world. This, in turn, reshapes the manner by which foreign workers must interact with their environment, when compared to regions of the world where political stability and economic development exists.
Furthermore, when working in unstable regions, there are three ways an oilfield professional —from a top level—will function in such regions: As a temporary worker on short assignment, whereby relocation is not required; as an expatriate who has relocated entirely and moved in country; or as a quasi-expatriate where an individual does not completely relocate, but spends a considerable amount of time in a foreign country. This article—which is part of the working safely abroad series—will give pointers to individuals who will be functioning expatriate and quasi expatriate roles, so as to ensure they safely interact, maneuver and interact with their respective environment.
Depending on the level of instability found in a country in which one will be operating from, an armed guard, or escort will be assigned to you. In this backdrop, it is not uncommon to be living in a security compound when not attending business meetings, or working in the field. In contrast, there are regions of the world that are less volatile which allows expatriates to have a greater degree of mobility—and in such regions, understanding how to interact with your surroundings is highly important, due to said volatility.
When first arriving in a new country; becoming acclimated with your environment typically comes by way of an in country guide/escort, or a fellow co-worker who has been assigned to work with you in country. These local contacts will be key in teaching you the “ins and outs” of your new surroundings (The amount of time spent with a guide, varies per individual and the policy of the company one is working for). Such “ins and outs” apply to learning the local customs, as well as keeping up with country’s overall stability—especially when it is in flux. For this reason, it is imperative to learn as much as you can, and as quickly as possible, so as to know how to interact with your environment should you find yourself operating autonomously.
Keeping with the theme of operating autonomously, should you have to attend a meeting in an urban environment, in the country in which you are stationed; securing reliable transportation such as a company vehicle—by way of your employer— is of great advantage. Should the company you work for not have a local office to supply such transportation, renting a vehicle from a reputable source is a viable alternative. Independent of the manner by which you secure transportation, obtaining a vehicle that does not draw attention to you is highly recommended. It is important to note that in large cities which have a dizzying and/or half-finished transportation infrastructure—securing 3rd party transportation service/escort (Non taxi)—is another option. This is due to the fact that inaccuracies in positioning by way of GPS systems exist (As well as maps that do not match the terrain of interest), which can lead you to becoming lost in volatile areas of a city. Moreover, when employing a 3rd party transportation service, it is key to validate and authenticate the aforementioned in advance. Another means of 3rd party travel comes by way of taxis—this method, however , is not recommended if authentication cannot be made prior to boarding. It is worth noting that there have been cases—as documented online—where individuals and even local citizens find themselves held against their will upon entering a vehicle that poses as a taxi.
Travelling in remote environments requires a different approach when compared to travelling in urban terrain. In spite of this, it is important to secure vehicles that are reliable and in optical working condition, so as to avoid becoming stranded in a remote mountainous region as you make your way to a dock, or job location. The autonomous mindset equally applies here, thus necessitating the need to diligently conduct integrity checks of the vehicle you will be utilizing (Using this approach also applies for urban environments), which includes thoroughly checking: oil levels, tire pressure, spare tire availability, etc. The above mentioned is due to the fact that certain regions of the world do not have a fully developed transportation infrastructure, but instead are composed of roads that are: Not maintained or fully paved, covered in mud, made of dirt, or have stones peppered throughout them.
For this reason, opting for an SUV or a truck is critical so as to avoid your vehicle making direct impact with stones, or parts of the road that have “pot holes”, which can adversely impact your vehicle. And should adverse impact be made with the aforementioned, and should you not have the means of conducting repairs or installing a second spare tire, for instance—receiving relief/assistance can take an extended amount of time when in an isolated region. Such delayed relief is especially true when traversing through remote terrain where the roads resemble mountain trails. In addition, when navigating in this backdrop, signage or road markers are to be greatly observed, as they give a forewarning of the deviations to be expected throughout the road travelled. In addition, if you are unaccustomed to traveling in mountainous roads, it is imperative to look out for the “falling of boulders” sign, which advises you that the terrain being travelled is susceptible to large boulders falling directly in to the vehicle’s path, or worst, directly on to a vehicle. The above mentioned is compounded by the fact that in unstable regions, your vehicle, or the caravan you are traveling in, is susceptible to acts of crime, which makes it imperative to minimize any traveling interruptions, so as to minimize your exposure time.
Adapting to a new environment that is in flux can be challenging—in spite of this, by employing an interactive philosophy that places safety and precaution first, traversing through areas that are volatile is manageable and can be achieved. Furthermore, and as noted in the introduction of this article, this is the first installation of a series for Oil and Gas professionals which aims to guide said professionals who find themselves operating in a new country. The next installations of this series will cover—and give pointers on how to carefully: cross in to and from another country on land; maneuver through military checkpoints; how to blend in with your environment when not in a vehicle, the manner by which to handle cash and credit, etc. Lastly, the information contained herein should be followed and treated as a guide, and not as a definitive document to be applied to all situations in urban and remote environments.
Guest contributor Fernando Hernandez is the subsea technical advisor at Reaching Ultra, a Houston-based market research firm. He has extensive field experience in the dynamic positioning, ROV tooling, automated controls, subsea and well Intervention sectors. Hernandez’s offshore background has given him a firm understanding of the best practices for outfitting vessels and rigs for offshore operations, so as to properly have topside and subsea equipment operate in synchronicity via divers and ROVs. His field experience and tri-lingual fluency has facilitated the execution of several offshore operations, as well as the development of a number of international commercial relationships. To learn more about Fernando click here.