Tips for swamp location working from Kevin Chimezie Akparanta, Coiled Tubing Operator at Halliburton
As Kevin has just spent 6 weeks working in swamp conditions, this article is going to share his advice for swamp location working for other engineers facing a similar assignment.
Kevin Chimezie Akparanta has a background in electrical and electronic engineering. He works for Halliburton as a Coiled Tubing Operator. He is based in Nigeria but spends a lot of his time offshore or on remote sites.
Earlier this year, Kevin shared his experience of working in the oil industry.
Kevin Chimezie Akparanta a Coiled Tubing Operator at Halliburton
Kevin has just returned from a three well campaign in a swamp location. Two of the wells have been completed where nitrogen lift operation was done and the wells were brought up to production. While the third well is a zone change out from gas zone to oil zone, which is still ongoing.
How did you prepare before you left? As a team and personally?
Preparation for swamp jobs is almost the same as going offshore. The difference is the depth of the water and size.
As a team
We have checklists for mobilisation to swamp/offshore locations. That is because they are all remote and the logistics to bring any items to these locations is always expensive.
The checklist helps us as a team to gather all necessary tools and documents needed for the swift and effective execution of the job. Also experience by each team member as a result of issues encountered on several past swamp locations, helps the team gather all we need to execute our job effectively to avoid re-occurrence of those issues.
Over time going to swamp jobs and also offshore has taught me to pack with a bit extra. So, with regard to my personal belongings like toothpaste, body lotion, bathing soap etc., I ensure I have enough that can last for more than the estimated time of the project. This is in case of an overstay or lack of flight availability to leave the swamp location. That’s the first thing to think about.
Secondly is preparing your mind that you will possibly be cut off from communication with family and friends. This is due to poor network or even no network coverage in most remote swamp locations like the one I just came out from. Also before leaving try to find out which network provider is possibly available in that swamp location and is there any way you can get their sim card.
Arriving in the swamp
What did you have to do as soon as you arrived?
As soon as we arrived at the swamp location, we were first taken to the accommodation (this is usually a house boat). Here, safety induction was carried out and bed space issued to each member of our team.
Who was included in the team of people onsite?
Well intervention is an interesting job as you always get to meet different people from different companies. These are the people who form the complete intervention team to achieve the aim of the project. Let me break it down for easy understanding.
For the job to be successful, we need the following:
coiled tubing team
logistics team (mariners)
catering team (of course we need to eat)
accommodation team (houseboat).
All these people together successfully achieved the nitrogen lift job.
Each of these teams comes from different companies. We need to work well together to achieve the aim of the project. The aim of the project I have just left was to bring the well to production and it was done successfully.
What extra health and safety concerns are there when working in a swamp?
We are in the middle of a thick swamp forest, where movement is restricted, and we have about 70 people staying and working together to achieve one aim. So, any disease outbreak will be catastrophic even though we have experienced medics on site. So, fitness to work is passed by each individual before coming and anyone on any medication declares their health status so as to manage and contain any emergency.
Proper hygiene is always maintained and all HSE measures are put in place to avoid any disease outbreak.
We are the ones invading the homes of these animals and insects, because that is their natural habitat. So, while working we are all advised to cover our bodies properly to avoid insect bites. Sometimes we have bee attacks and then we just stay inside our cabins to avoid being stung and later they all go away.
We have zero tolerance for accidents, because one small mistake can kill everyone on site. So, we always carry out toolbox talks, a buddy system, hazard hunts etc., to ensure there is no incident nor accident. There were none while I was working there and there have not been any from the team that took over from us.
These swamps belong to people and sometimes you see them either sail through the work site, or perhaps the river is close to a nearby community. So, the client always ensures they know strangers are coming to work and then there is hardly any interference from outsiders. We also have security personnel on the water itself.
Non work time whilst in swamp location
What do you do when you are not working?
Mostly I try to catch up on sleep. However, on this assignment, my last five weeks have been glued to the television and news about the Nigerian election and national politics as it concerns us.
Outside that I try to read manuals and engage in question-and-answer sessions (non-job related) with my colleagues. I can’t really do my Python class due to lack of internet availability.
How do you manage working onsite with the same group of people?
It has turned us from a team to almost a family. That is because our colleagues are always there:
you work together,
share the same room,
do almost everything together,
so, we all learn to accommodate everyone.
It is fun most of the time.
Working in heat whilst in the swamp
What is your advice for coping with working in heat?
Always stay hydrated is key. Drink as much water as you can, because the heat cannot go away, and you can’t tell the sun to stop shining.
Also, avoid thick clothing inside your coverall to avoid more heat issues.
Work life balance
While you were in the swamp, you had a birthday and also missed the chance to vote in the election. How do you manage things like this?
It is really a mindset.
Since I joined the oil and gas industry, I have spent only a few of my birthdays at home. On my recent birthday, there was no network coverage at all, and I was working all through that day.
My supervisor just came near to where I was working and said, “Happy Birthday.” I just smiled, and some days later it was his birthday – so also in the swamp.
I have managed to condition my mind that some days are like that, and we can’t always have it all. At least you are alive to count another cycle of your life.
The painful part of my recent job in the swamp was the election. We couldn’t and didn’t take part, so everyone on site was feeling bad about not voting.
How do you stay in touch with friends and family?
Sometimes I go for days without talking to family and friends due to not having network coverage. Luckily, they understand that the job is like that sometimes.
Is it possible to exercise? How do you do this?
Some accommodation (house boats) has a gym room where one can exercise, but my last job did not have any. So, doing exercise is nearly impossible, unless you do push-ups in your room.
What are the catering arrangements and what food do you miss?
We have a catering company managing the meals. Although you cannot eat the kind of food you want all the time, as it was generic food.
I missed having a lot of fruit.
Teamwork whilst working onsite in a swamp location
How important is team work on an assignment like this?
As I have listed what the composition of a team for a nitrogen lift looks like, imagine there is no team work among the catering crew and the coiled tubing crew and they don’t eat before going to work. It will definitely affect the team productivity.
Teamwork is what drives us to succeed and without it we are just a bunch of individuals who left their homes to go to the swamp with the sole aim of failing.
How do you think a team can be strengthened?
Communication, sharing of knowledge and unity, as with these three points the team keeps growing in strength.
What are the best management styles you have seen in these types of conditions?
The HSSE (Health, Safety, Security and Environment) golden rules:
Comply with the laws, standards, and procedures.
Intervene in unsafe or non-compliant actions.
Respect our neighbours.
This has been a good management system that has worked over and over again: comply, intervene, and respect.
The positives of swamp working
What do you think is a real positive of working on site in a swamp?
Sometimes working in a swamp makes you appreciate nature and see the world from a different angle.