At the beginning of the year, five students from the University of Aberdeen were awarded the first round of engineering scholarships from Petro-Canada as the company rolled out its Emerging Leaders Scholarship Programme in the UK.
Each of the students received crucial financial support as part of their scholarship but, more importantly, were given the opportunity to apply for industry experience through placements at the company’s Aberdeen office.
That opportunity worked especially well for Joanna Farquharson, 19, a third-year chemical engineering student, as not only had she secured a work placement, but that placement was going to take her offshore.
Awarded a chemical engineering prize from Marathon Oil earlier this year in recognition of her performance in her second year of university, Joanna has been able to spend time gaining vital experience working in the drilling department at Petro-Canada in Aberdeen.
Almost three of those weeks were spent offshore getting to grips with drilling operations on the semi-submersible, JW McLean, drilling in the outer Moray Firth.
Speaking about her experience, Farquharson told Energy: “This has been an incredible year for me. To be accepted on to the scholarship programme was fantastic news, and to be awarded a placement opportunity was a huge bonus. When I found out I would get to go offshore, I was ecstatic.
“I did my offshore survival course at the beginning of June, which was, in itself, exciting and scary all at once. I had a vague idea of what to expect and, although it’s a controlled and highly safe training environment, it was still overwhelming when it came to the helicopter survival exercise.”
Farquharson spent a short period in the firm’s offices on Albyn Place, where she was given the chance to work as part of the onshore drilling team before being flown offshore.
Indeed, it was after two weeks in the office that Joanna donned her survival suit and flew out to the JW McLean.
“Thanks to a trip organised by the university and Petro-Canada, I had seen the rig when it was docked at the harbour in Invergordon earlier in the year. Nevertheless, when I got offshore, it felt so strange to be so remote, to be able to see nothing but the sea for miles.”
It was also intriguing when it was impressed upon Farquharson that she had the same right and responsibility to stop a job as an experienced offshore worker should she feel a task was being carried out in an unsafe manner.
She said: “I spent a lot of time shadowing Shaun Vaughan, the offshore drilling supervisor, who is responsible for the safe and efficient delivery of the drilling programme – it was amazing to see everything happening for real.
“When you are at university learning about the theory of engineering, it’s so far removed from what it’s actually like when you’re offshore and working as a team to deliver the drilling programme. I learned so much. I was surprised at how many people it takes do everything.
“I was working with mud-loggers, geologists and the rig crew, and was involved in each stage of the programme from spudding the well to drilling and evaluation. It was throughout this time I realised the critical importance of communication between the offshore and onshore teams to keep everything on schedule.”
Given the opportunity to get her teeth into key projects within the drilling team, when Farquharson returned onshore she took charge of a number of projects under the leadership of Craig McGregor, Petro-Canada’s manager of drilling and completions for North West Europe. This included a bit optimisation study to examine and compare the success of drillbits Petro-Canada had used in the Moray Firth.
She also worked on a project to assess how time is managed offshore. This entailed reviewing time breakdown reports for selected wells and categorising the productive and non-productive time. It will now form the basis of a time-management review for Petro-Canada to identify where operations can be performed more effectively.
She added: “I still can’t believe I was given such responsibility. I was working on real projects in real time and could see the value that was added when I completed them. I know from fellow students that many placement experiences don’t give you the depth and variety of work experience that I have been lucky to have.”
Summing up her time with Petro-Canada, Farquharson said that when she was awarded the scholarship, it was a relief because the money meant she could cut back on part-time work and focus on her studies.
“However, the opportunity I have had this summer to spend time working as part of a drilling team has been incredible and has really cemented my desire to move into the industry, and in particular the drilling sector, once I complete my studies.”