Kuwait is one of the world’s largest producers of petroleum and related liquids, taking up position ten among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members in 2015. In the same year, the country was the 5th largest crude oil producer among OPEC members. Kuwait only trails Iran, Iraq, UAE, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in petroleum production despite its smaller geographical size compared to other OPEC members. Petroleum exports account for approximately 70% of Kuwait’s total revenues, thus playing an integral role in the nation’s economy. Therefore, as a member of OPEC, Kuwait faces a considerable decline in its export revenues due to falling global prices of crude oil. For example, the country’s exports’ value declined by almost 50% between 2014 and 2015. Kuwait is working towards remaining one of the major oil producers globally, targeting production of crude oil as well as condensates in the excess of 4 million b/d by 2020. Nevertheless, the country continues to struggle in its efforts to improve production of oil and natural gas for close to a decade due to delayed upstream projects and lack of adequate foreign investment in the industry.
Founded in 1934, the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) is a public company that operates in the Kuwait’s oil and gas industry. The Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), a state-owned holding company is the KOC’s parent company. Its headquarters are located in Ahmadi, Kuwait. The KOC acts as the KPC’s upstream subsidiary. It was until 1936 when the initiated drilling operations. The company’s products range from petroleum to crude oil, natural gas, and other hydrocarbons. KOC undertakes a number of operations in Kuwait, including oil and gas exploration, onshore and offshore surveys, development of production fields, drilling, and production. In addition, the company undertakes crude oil, exploration, production, storage, and distribution to tankers for exportation. A series of oil discoveries were made in Kuwait at different timeframes – Burgan (1938), Maqwa (1951), Ahmadi (1952), Raudhatain (1955), Sabriya (1957), and Minagish (1959). Burgan remains the largest oil reservoir in Kuwait and it is recognized as the second largest reserve and production field globally. For example, in 2010, the field contributed to close to 50% of the country’s oil production. KOC is working on boosting the capacity of Burgan through implementation of enhanced oil recovery techniques such as seawater and carbon dioxide (CO2) injection. Amidst efforts to boost Kuwait’s production of oil and natural gas, KOC projects are expected to support most of the production capacity increments.
In the late 1950s, KOC was able to increase its production capacity necessitating construction of projects such as export terminals to support more tankers in addition to crude oil gathering and distribution control and monitoring systems. This period marked a noteworthy defining moment in the country’s history of oil production and exportation operations mainly undertaken by KOC. The Kuwaiti topography gives KOC an edge with respect to the ease of distributing crude oil from wells to target stations thanks to gravitational pull which eliminates the need for highly specialized pumps. At the same time, KOC has been able to increase its production capacity towards increased oil and natural gas export revenues. In addition, the company employs more than 10,000 persons to fill up various positions. Moreover, KOC supports young engineers and technicians in their quest for technical and leadership competencies in the oil and gas industry. Therefore, KOC continues to play an integral role on Kuwait’s social and economic development and growth.
I successfully underwent a 12-week industrial working program at KOC where I had the opportunity of gaining valuable skills, knowledge, and experiences. During the program, I worked in a number of host institution divisions, including oil and gas field development, exploration, export and marine operations, project management (PM), technical support and maintenance, Health, Safety, Security, and Environment (HSSE) protection, and the central workshop.
- PROGRAM ACTIVITIES
I started the industrial working/training program with immense enthusiasm owing to my passion for learning new skills and knowledge as part of my long-term goal of becoming a distinguished engineer. My first day at KOC started with a health and safety orientation – a presentation that covered occupational risks and potential protection and prevention measures. This orientation was crucial to ensuring that my health and safety as well as that of other colleagues are guaranteed throughout my attachment with the institution. I was also provided with some personal protective equipment (PPE) aimed at protecting myself from potential infection or injury in case of a hazard. As part of PPE, I was given a helmet, safety shoes, and uniform. Potential hazards in oil and gas operations may include exposure to excessive heat, particulate matter, or dust. In addition, there are risks related to working in confined spaces, handling hazardous chemicals, or coming into contact with open electrical cables (electrocution). I was also assigned a person to take me around the plants and equipment as well as areas useful to this industrial working program in that the approach was consistent with knowledge transfer activities targeting a person of average technical capabilities – student. More precisely, I was given the status of a student. I was also introduced to a number of people who I would later come to work with. I also completed all the required forms and signed them having read and understood the company’s rules and policies.
2.2 The field development
The first session was a two-week work at the company’s field development unit. Under the leadership of a senior petroleum engineer, the unit dealt with assessment and development of oil wells. Generally, this unit was responsible for planning and executing the entire lifecycle oil and gas field process – from discovery, assessment, development, operations, optimization, and abandonment. I was exposed to a number of knowledge areas, including reserve estimation, recovery evaluation, oil/gas production scheduling, existing wells and their placement, production planning, well construction, and reservoir depletion among others. I had the opportunity of learning about the operations of one of the largest oil reservoirs globally (the Greater Burgan), including aspects of the flow from this reservoir to target wells and assessment of opportunities for oil discovery and production optimization.
I was privileged to assume a major role in the acquisition and interpretation of log data concerned with oil rigs. The experienced drillers helped me understand a handful of well log measurements captured at different depths that guide the process of identifying sub-surface formations for optimization purposes. I came to understand how the following measurements are logged in a real-world oil rig setting: porosity, permeability, water saturation, resonance, and resistivity. Of much importance are the skills I gained regarding open-hole (OH) logging (measurements carried out on an oil well prior to wellbore casing and cementing procedures but after drilling) and cased-hole (CH) logging (measurements retrieved through the casing/piping). These are valuable techniques as they help drilling and operations personnel to provide critical insights specific to a well, for example, potential flow inhibitors and well formation. I also experienced wireline surveillance in practice, a technology crucial to drilling operations as it facilitated the process of lowering measurement equipment into wells to log and transmit real-time data for proactive decisions.
Another area where I gained valuable skills is the exploration unit over a two-week period. Here, I was able to achieve some understanding in relation to safe and cost-effective exploration of hydrocarbons as governed by the government of Kuwait to optimize oil and natural gas reserves. KOC places a lot of emphasis on hydrocarbon exploration through competent personnel and technological solutions for delivery of best-quality products. The company also recognizes quality and value maximization as key enablers of improved customer satisfaction. I worked together with a teams drawn from different areas, including exploration operations, exploration studies, prospect evaluation, and discoveries promotion groups. I was exposed to strategies related to planning and executing geophysical tasks necessary for exploration of onshore and offshore hydrocarbons; assessment of potential oil and gas prospects; risk analysis and optimization of well locations; and production analysis and promotion of discoveries to personnel involved in field development for reduced exploration-to-production cycles. I was privileged to be involved in some documentation activity related to the above-mentioned gas and oil exploration activities, for example, geophysical assessment results.
2.4 Export and marine operations
I undertook a one-week assignment at the exportation and marine operations unit, where I experienced first-hand experience in the fundamental crude oil receiving, mixing, storage, and exportation procedures in addition to marine operations. I was involved in activities related to distribution of crude oil from the production and control centre to exportation tankers. During this process, a number of key decisions are usually to be made by the division management. These include issues to do with availability of KOC fleet vessels, oil combating tools, navigational safety buoys; adherence to health, safety, and environmental sustainability rules and regulations across the work sites and beyond; and delivery of necessary training for personal development. While export operations were mainly focused on transportation of crude oil from the production facilities to the target domestic and international customers, marine operations performed tasks essential to shipping of crude oil export from different Kuwait ports. Therefore, a considerable disruption of the export and marine operations may adversely impact on KOC’s supply chains as it is an undeniable bottleneck.
I came to understand the process of receiving crude oil from KOC gathering centres (GCs) as scheduled to a centralized mixing manifold. Then, it is temporarily stored in KOC tank farms from where it is supplied to export ships through loading terminals, Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) refineries, and MEW power infrastructures. The following are other activities involved in the crude oil export operations: storage and gravity loading, export loading, metering, lab analysis, emergency response planning, facility (tanks, electrical installations, turbines, pipelines, fire fighting equipment and other items) maintenance and repair, and movement and documentation. Documentation plays an important role in the effectiveness and efficiency of the export operations unit. I learnt that the crude oil exportation process has to be documented in order to gain a clear end-to-end visibility into the product (oil) movements, daily stock, sale lifecycle, off-take reports, cargo quantities, delivery duration, compliance with third-party inspections, and others for effective communication and decision-making purposes. At the same time, potential environmental impacts arising from activities such as emissions, land use, and waste disposal along with potential protection measures are identified and documented.
2.5 Project management (PM)
KOC undertakes small- to large-scale projects. While smaller projects may be handled by divisions where they fall under, larger ones (costing more than $50 million) are managed by a specialized group – Ahmadi Projects. In my industrial working program, I had a two-week assignment with Ahmadi Projects. Nevertheless, the complex and sensitive nature of such projects made it difficult for me to assume any practical roles and responsibilities. But, I grasped a number of basic skills through work-shadowing including aspects of planning in relation to time, budget, equipment, and workforce requirements; project control and monitoring; risk management; stakeholder involvement; and change management. Other than work-shadowing, I was able to win the attention of one project lead who emphasized the need for proper planning, clear definition of project goals and scope, availability of skills and competencies, and efficient communications as key enablers of successful delivery of complex projects.
2.6 Technical support and maintenance
I had the privilege of working with the technical support and maintenance services team. Here, I appreciate the need for preventive maintenance services for KOC facilities and equipment to ensure the company’s everyday processes and operations are free from potential disruption arising from plant/equipment failure. KOC requires technical services undertaken by electrical, mechanical, and instrument engineers. I interacted with some of these engineers as they carried out their day-to-day technical plant and equipment maintenance and support to prevent potentially severe problems that may disrupt KOC business processes and operations. I learnt about the need for scheduled tank (for water and crude oils) cleaning and repair in addition to maintenance of pipelines, fire suppression equipment, water section equipment, rotating equipment, air conditioning and ventilation installations, metering tools, fire-outbreak and gas-leakage detection systems, and power turbines. These systems are crucial to improved and sustained operability and reliability of KOC projects. In addition, the team was involved in the process of identifying potential health and safety hazards along with creation of risk prevention measures.
I came to understand how engineers perform regular inspections of tanks, pipelines, and other critical equipment and installations to detect potential corrosion impacts. This activity plays an important role in upholding optimal asset or facility integrity. I came to recognize the fact that corrosion is one of the most severe challenge facing KOC and similar companies because they deal with large quantities of liquid and gaseous products. Therefore, the problem calls for huge prevention and corrective investments. In addition, the company has invested in regular corrosion education and awareness training to keep its engineers well-informed about the problem and potential remediation strategies. Corrosion inspection results help the technical support and maintenance personnel make timely and effective decisions in relation to continued use or replacement of an asset.
2.7 Health, Safety, Security, and Environment (HSSE) protection
KOC is committed to complying with health, safety, security, and environment rules and regulations. The Kuwait Environmental Protection Authority (KEPA) is the main HSSE regulatory agency and KOC strictly adheres to its provisions. As such, all its divisions carry out their processes and operations while at the same time applying and adhering to industry standards and best practices as well as corporate policy requirements. For example, the company complies with the ISO 14001:2004 Environmental Management System (EMS). The company commits itself to aggressive optimization and promotion of a product portfolio that guarantees sustained growth across its onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration and reservoir management operations. The HSSE personnel perform relevant audits, site visits, and emergency drills. KOC places HSSE signage across its office premises and work sites to keep its workforce, visitors, and the general public adequately informed about relevant health, safety, security, and environment practices. Other HSSE considerations are presented on the corporate website from where everyone can access them. While health, safety, and security considerations were aimed at protecting employees, contractors and sub-contractors, and the public against injury, infection, or fatality, environmental sustainability measures seek to ensure that the company respects the interests of the society at large.
As trainee, I worked with the HSSE team and tasked with the responsibility of communicating relevant information to staff, contractors, and sub-contractors. I ensured that every HSSE signage was legible and strategically located so that the target user groups are guaranteed of locating, reading, and understanding them. I was also involved in the regular HSSE site inspections during my time at the export and marine unit. These efforts were aimed at reducing the impacts of this unit’s operations and processes on the elements of HSSE in addition to the integrity of KOC assets. I participated in the process of developing HSSE risk register that included aspects of enumerating potential risks along with their likelihood of occurrence, impact severity, and countermeasures. The company implements the HSSE strategies while at simultaneously training its employees with optimal commitment. I had the opportunity of understanding a wide array of health, safety, security, and environment issues, including exposure to hazardous substances and air and noise pollution. Associated experiences helped me understand what the world expects from engineers in relation to ethical and environmental responsibilities.
My two-week stay at the company’s central workshop exposed me to different technologies and techniques. The electrical and welding section is one of the workshops that I visited during my assignment at this unit. Health and safety considerations are especially important in the electrical workshop because of potential exposure to electrocution when working with high voltage power supplies. The high health and safety risks involved in the electrical and welding workshop prohibited us from carrying out practical activities since they were a preserve of professional engineers and technicians. Nevertheless, I still managed to understand the technical issues regarding the workshop’s mechanical and electrical devices. Welding was an important element of the company’s operations because it could be used to fix broken piping infrastructure and other components.
There was a fitting workshop involved in the planning and integration of different systems critical to KOC operations. The director of this workshop made us (as group of trainees) understand that the section is involved in the development and repair of devices used in the normal operations of the company. I had the opportunity of practicing with equipment marked as damaged as it would be impractical to experiment with systems in production. Nevertheless, I still managed to understand different elements and procedures employed in the fitting process, including tapping, piping, and documentation. Documentation forms a crucial element of fitting operations as it is the major point of reference from where future works borrow ideas and/or concepts necessary for maintenance and repair activities. Proper and sufficient documentation of fitting works also supports the company’s knowledge transfer mission in that new comers can quickly adapt to the organization since they have the information they need at their disposal.
The valves section imparted me with skills and knowledge related to the management of piping installations. Engineers actively monitor and control how the fluids flow in the installations to eliminate potential problems. I witnessed engineers test the fluid pressures, rates of flow, and velocities among other metrics to optimize the overall performance.
In the final days, I also interacted with staff working at the mechanisms section because it was impractical to experiment with machines because the complexities involved were beyond my skills. In addition, there were obvious sensitivity issues in relation to potential impact to the company’s operations in the event the machines were tampered with. Nevertheless, this section proved to be very important for my engineering career because it involved activities such as product design, fabrication, assembly, and considerations for continued maintenance.
- AN ASSESSMENT OF THE INDUSTRY WORKING EXPERIENCE
The twelve-week industrial working program at KOC was a true eye-opener and a major element of my engineering career. This can be attributed to the fact that the industrial experience exposed me to the real-world of engineering in the context of an oil and gas company. I had the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on and soft skills crucial to my short-term and long-term career goals. The following are some of the invaluable skills I gained from the program:
- Reservoir assessment and development of oil wells;
- OH and CH logging of an oil rig’s porosity, permeability, water saturation, resonance, and resistivity measurements;
- Safe and cost-effective exploration of hydrocarbons; exploration-to-production cycle reduction strategies;
- Crude oil receiving, mixing, storage, and exportation procedures and marine operations;
- Documentation of oil and gas operations and processes;
- Project management – planning, control and monitoring, risk management, and change management; corrosion inspection and countermeasures;
- HSSE considerations; and
- Electrical, welding, fitting, valves, and mechanisms workshops.
HSSE considerations (environmental sustainability issues) helped me appreciate what the world expects from me as am engineer in relation to ethical and environmental responsibilities. As a professional engineer, I learnt to never downplay the interests of the society. I learnt to always uphold integrity, honesty, and accountability in my engineering activities for the benefit of all stakeholders. I also improved my problem solving skills, teamwork, and communication, which are critical to a successful career.
It is evident that KOC provided a myriad of learning opportunities. Despite the fact that my activities at the company were limited due to the nature of complex systems and processes in the company’s production environment, I gained immense skills and knowledge that will be crucial to my engineering career. I gained skills in oil and gas field development, exploration, export and marine operations, project management, technical support and maintenance requirements, health, safety, security, and environment protection, and valves and fluid flow monitoring and control. I look forward to securing a job placement at KOC or a similar company with vast engineering implementations to further improve my hands-on skills towards my long-term of goal of becoming a distinguished engineer.