The commute to work is slightly more complicated than most for offshore oil workers who must take a helicopter trip out to the rig. It’s up to the energy companies to coordinate the traffic to and from rigs. Considering that a company such as Husky Energy has some 360 people working on three rigs at any given time — and that workers do three weeks on, three weeks off — moving them back and forth is no easy matter.To further complicate matters, workers have to meet certain regulatory requirements and have proper certification before they are allowed onto a rig. Husky has about 1,000 people in its system who might need to go to its rigs — either for regular shifts or to do emergency maintenance or repairs. Before anyone steps onto the rig, the company must ensure they’ve either met the proper requirements or been given special dispensation.
Energy companies use personnel on board (POB) systems to help keep track of offshore employees. However, many of them are designed with U.K. regulations in mind. Others are shared systems that require that any changes be agreed on by committees made up of the various stakeholders. Neither served Husky’s purposes, says Gordon Mellis, logistics and materials team lead for Husky Energy in St. John’s, Nfld.
So Husky worked with Cougar Helicopter Inc. to begin building the Personnel Logistics System (PLS). Eventually, they decided they were spending too much time on it and not enough on their core businesses, so they handed off development of the system to Xwave, a service provider based on the East Coast.
Now Xwave supplies the system to them as an application service provider (ASP) and it has made tracking personnel infinitely easier, Mellis says.
“It meets all our needs,” he says. “We’ve had excellent reliability.”
Husky averages about five flights a day and can fit about eight people in a flight. The company must know who’s offshore at any given time. Such requirements were created after the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 in which 167 people died after an explosion. Part of the rescue problem was no one knew exactly how many people were offshore. The industry turned to POB systems to help track personnel, but the advantage of PLS is that it meets Canadian requirements, Mellis says.
The key to the project’s success, Mellis says, was trying not to do too much right away. “We needed to keep the whole thing in perspective,” he says. “We didn’t need the level of functionality that exists in the North Sea. We needed a lean, mean system.”
Still, developing the POB management tool was not without its challenges, says Dave Finn, account manager for oil and gas with Xwave in St. John’s.
Cougar’s initial application development, which Husky funded, used a Microsoft Access database.
“It wasn’t architected for the Web and it had performance issues,” Finn says. “We built it on Oracle and took advantages of its security.”
There are now several permutations for access, giving people various degrees of visibility into the system depending on their roles. Different energy companies can use the same helicopter flight to move personnel to and from offshore locations. Petro-Canada now uses the system as well. Husky can see that a seat on the flight is taken by Petro-Canada, but it can’t see who’s in the seat.
Unlike MAPS, another POB system common to the energy industry, companies using Xwave’s PLS don’t have to use all the same rules, Finn says. For example, if an employee’s certifications are coming up for renewal, should the application give a warning 30 days before or 45 days before? Companies sharing a multi-operator system had to all come to an agreement through committee meetings on such rules and regulations.
“That can be a challenge,” Finn says. With Xwave’s PLS, not all the requirements have to be shared by the users.
This works to Husky’s benefits, Mellis says. “If Petro-Canada wants to make changes, we don’t have to live with those changes.”
Though the system wasn’t originally envisioned as an ASP tool, Xwave decided that would be the best way to deliver PLS to the energy industry.
“A lot of times, in the offshore industry, you’ll get clients looking for a turnkey solution,” he says. It makes sense for a company setting out on a 60- to 90-day exploration project to rent rather than go through an install process, he says.
About 80 per cent of the personnel are moved on planned flights, such as personnel reporting for and coming off shifts. The rest are ad hoc flights. Being able to see who’s on a flight can help companies plan better, Finn says.
“If they can go from flying 33 flights a month to 28 flights a month, that will pay for the system because the cost of the flights is expensive.” This will become increasingly important as the search for oil goes farther out and more deep-water exploration is done, Finn says. If you have a supply vessel and you forget something, you’re in trouble, he says.

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