Oil & gas frontliners brave the challenges of the new normal

by BERNAMA / pic by BLOOMBERG 

KUALA LUMPUR – Being the frontliners in the oil and gas (O&G) industry is no mean feat. Rarely in the spotlight, they shoulder a heavy responsibility in ensuring uninterrupted supplies of energy and fossil fuels, so everyday life can continue as usual despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

They work round-the-clock so industries are powered, homes are lit, healthcare and emergency facilities can run, and businesses remain open.

Exposed to harsh weather conditions, high temperatures and hazardous materials, among others, they often risk life and limb so the nation and societies can continue to thrive.

Given the challenges posed by the pandemic since last year, there have been increasing risks of working in what is already one of the world’s most hostile environments.

Now, more than one year into the pandemic, these frontliners are facing a twin threat: emerging new variants of the virus and also increasing COVID-fatigue and complacency.

The pandemic also brought about a host of new challenges in the way they work, for which new sets of measures and operating procedures are put in place to minimise safety and health risks.

Armed with their mettle and resilience, the frontliners have embraced these challenges as their “new normal” to deliver energy efficiently, safely, and reliably to diverse sectors and customers.

DIFFICULTIES IN MANAGING A TEAM IN CURRENT ENVIRONMENT

Domanic Gunau, an offshore installation manager serving national O&G company Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) at the Samarang drilling platform, off the waters of Sabah, said managing a team has become increasingly difficult in the current environment, especially when one is not able to see their loved ones for an extended period of time.

“Working on a platform for 28 solid days instead of 14 prior to the pandemic, followed by extended quarantine periods, can take a toll on our physical and mental health,” he said.

For this father of five, who leads an offshore team in ensuring safe and efficient installation operations, keeping morale high while adhering to strict safety standards is a top priority.

“Any slip-up can be costly in our line of work so we cannot afford to be distracted.

“I keep my crew motivated and lift their spirits by being there for them as much as I can,” he added.

JACK OF ALL TRADES

The sentiment is shared by his colleague Ronald Bujeng, Petronas’ senior technician based in B11 Complex of Sarawak Gas, offshore Sarawak.

With nearly 30 years of experience under his belt, Bujeng also helms Kesatuan Kakitangan Petronas (KAPENAS) for the Sarawak Gas chapter, an employee union that represents non-executive staff.

“I wear two hats; I am a full-time offshore employee and also a part-time management representative.

“I understand the predicament of both sides in managing challenges during these trying times, such as to keep operations running optimally with minimal manpower to reduce risks,” said the father of three.

At the same time, he said, staff members need to maintain focus at work while coping with the stress of being away from home.

“It is crucial to stay on course because doing the opposite will affect quality, health, and safety.

“These concerns are manageable with all processes and guidelines in place, but the severity of the pandemic is worrying,” he added.

Nevertheless, the challenges at hand provide them with an opportunity to be more agile and adaptable as the pandemic situation escalates and de-escalates from time to time, he opined.

EFFORTS TO REINFORCE THE LINE OF DEFENCE

Petronas has currently more than 6,000 employees and contractors working on various offshore installations in the country.

During the start of the pandemic in early 2020, the company had undertaken various efforts to reinforce its line of defence against the invisible adversary.

Stringent safety measures have been put in place at all its facilities, offshore and onshore, in adherence to the Health Ministry’s regulations and guidelines.

These include providing working from home arrangements, reducing the number of personnel at premises, and increasing vigilance within premises and around work perimeters.

Through its Employee Assistance Programme, Petronas also provides free and confidential professional counselling service to help employees cope with pressures that may impact their health, work performance, and well-being.

NECESSARY MEASURES TO BE EXTRA VIGILANT

Petronas maintenance supervisor Nik M Syahrom M Ghazali believes all the necessary measures in place encourage his team, comprising staff, partners, and contractors, to be extra vigilant when performing their duties.

As a father of two young children, one of his main motivations is the desire to go home safely to his loved ones at the end of his rotation.

“I work at the Angsi-A oil platform, offshore Kerteh, Terengganu.

“My main responsibility is to ensure that the health, safety, security and environment rules are upheld at all times,” said Nik Syahrom.

Angsi-A is one of the largest installations in Peninsular Malaysia, and there can be up to 300 people at a time during a major maintenance period.

“This requires every single one of us to look out for one another. Dealing with subordinates and partners who face fatigue due to the long rotation, besides external pressures such as family matters, requires a lot of time and care.

“We have to ensure that no irrational behaviour occurs at site which could threaten the efficiency and safety of operations and people,” he explained.

For O&G frontliners such as Gunau, Bujeng, and Nik Syahrom, the sacrifices they make are more than rewarded by the teamwork shown and the dynamic nature of their jobs.

“Beyond just that, we are proud to be part of the O&G community because we deliver essential services to the world, nation, and the community.

“By keeping production stable with minimum unplanned downtime, we are playing our role in supporting the country in its battle against the pandemic, for Malaysia’s continued prosperity economically and socially,” Nik Syahrom said.