Offshore, Subsea and Pipeline Engineering

Offshore engineering predominantly concerns methods for the recovery of hydrocarbon resources from deep beneath the seabed, the installation of large fixed platform structures, and the laying of pipelines and associated oil/gas transport systems.

Submarine pipeline engineering requires a basic engineering background, but a number of other diverse disciplines are also involved including hydro–mechanics, heat transfer, materials, corrosion, soil mechanics and production flow management. In future, schemes to capture and store carbon dioxide in sub–sea reservoirs will also require pipelines.

Rigid pipelines are essentially simple structures defined by diameter and wall thickness, requiring the solution of problems relating to irregular foundations and the buckling behaviour. Flexible pipeline technology is of particular current importance. A typical flexible pipe may have many concentric layers of plastic or spirally wound steel fibres, each performing a different function. These structures combine great axial and pressure containment strength, with a high degree of bending flexibility, ideal properties for the risers connecting floating production units to subsea production wells.

Hydrocarbon discoveries are now often made in deep water where fixed structures are not cost–effective, and the necessary equipment for oil and gas production must be installed directly on the seabed. This activity is known as subsea engineering and is one of the growth areas in this industry. Subsea wells, and processing and flow–line systems must be installed at the seabed at depths well beyond the capability of any diver. They need to be operated reliably and safely over periods of up to twenty years. The requirement is thus for remotely operated and smart systems for both the installation and operation of these equipments. In many locations, in particular in very deep waters, where there are no pipelines taking the product ashore, reliance is placed on floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessels. These vessels process the oil from the wells and tranship it to a shuttle tanker or export pipeline to take ashore.

Other work for offshore engineers includes the harnessing of wave, current and wind energy, and, the recovery of minerals from the seabed in shallow or deep water. Whatever the work, equipment must be designed, built, installed and operated so that it can work reliably, safely and efficiently for perhaps long periods of time without maintenance, and with limited supervision. This is the challenge of offshore engineering!

Offshore engineers often have a broad–based knowledge across a range of subjects including structural design, dynamic loading and motion response, construction and quality assurance, materials technology, control engineering, fluid dynamics and reliability, combined with project management skills. They also need to be able to interact with other specialists such as oceanographers, geologists, divers and shipboard personnel.

Most offshore engineers enter the industry after studying for a first degree in a science or engineering discipline. Many undergraduate courses have final year options specifically directed towards offshore technology using the principles studied in other parts of the course. Some degree courses are completely directed towards the offshore business; this is particularly true on the one–year taught Master’s course.

Through its Educational Support Fund, the Society awards bursaries (on a competitive basis) to both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Intensive short courses provide another learning mode.

Employment is found not only with oil companies but also with design consultants, contractors, certifying authorities, project management organisations and inspection companies, for example. The workplace may be a design office, construction site or on the offshore installation itself. The desire by countries to be self–sufficient with their indigenous resources means that offshore engineers could find themselves working almost anywhere in the world. Training is usually given ‘on the job’, though some of the bigger companies offer training schemes (which contribute to the requirements for Charter Engineer status), or are willing to provide work experience during vacations.

For more information on typical companies, see our current list of corporate members and please use the search engine provided for areas of interest.

For further information contact:

Institute of Energy
61 New Cavendish Street
London W1G 7AR
t 020 7467 7100
f 020 7255 1472
Manager, Professional Affairs
The Institute of Marine Engineers Science and Technology
Aldgate House
33 Aldgate High Street
London EC3N 1EN
t 020 7382 2600
Institution of Civil Engineers
One Great George Street
London SW1P 3AA
t 020 7222 7722
f 020 7222 7500
Institution of Mechanical Engineers
1 Birdcage Walk
London SW1H 9JJ
t 020 7222 7899
f 020 7222 4557
The Pipeline Industries Guild (PIG)
14/15 Belgrave Square
London SW1X 8PS
t 020 7235 7938
f 020 7235 0074
The Education and Training Officer
The Royal Institution of
Naval Architects

10 Upper Belgrave Street
London SW1X 8BQ

t 020 7235 4622
f 020 7259 5912