The new frontier

Two Noble Energy executives share what it’s like working in a dynamic field that brings energy independence and new technology to Israel.

By YUVAL PAIS, THE POST
September 13, 2015 13:47
Oil Rig

Oil Rig. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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For 13 years and counting, the gas industry in Israel has been growing, and is now poised to make our country more wealthy and independent.

Political maneuvering on the topic has often made front-page news, but debate and division concerning the gas issue aside, there are hundreds of “invisible” people not in the headlines who work hard in this field every day. Some labor at sea for weeks, doing their utmost to extract the gas from the bowels of the earth and deliver it to Israel in the safest and most professional manner possible.

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They don’t engage in heated discussion; they just do their jobs.

Seeking to explore non-political aspects of the issue, we arranged to meet some of the people working at Noble Energy, helping to advance Israel’s success in the field.

Just before the holiday, we interviewed two senior employees – Israel's first rig director and Noble Energy’s rig drilling engineer – who provided a fascinating glimpse into the world of drilling, life at sea, the innovative workflow and more.

DORON BEN-SHITRIT, 45, runs the Mari-B rig, which was the first to begin the supply of natural gas to Israel in 2003.

“There are far-reaching implications to my work,” Ben Sheetrit says. “I am a patriotic pioneer, proud to be the manager of the first-ever Israeli rig. I enjoy seeing how we’ve evolved over the years from an international staff into an Israeli team. Today 80 percent of the rig’s workers are Israelis, and the rest are Americans or Europeans, compared to when I started working here, when there were only 20% Israelis and the rest mainly Americans.”



Ben Sheetrit entered the field about 12 years ago.

“I started out at the bottom, like other Israelis without a background in the industry. I know the equipment on the barge well thanks to the fact that my job was to take care of its maintenance,” he says. “It happened gradually, but I advanced to taking control of the rig, and that’s how I became the first Israeli director of a rig, and an Israeli one. I compare myself with others in the industry around the world, and my goal to be the best in my job, regardless of nationality,” he says proudly.

Those unfamiliar with the work may believe that it is relatively simple to position the pipeline correctly, deep into the soil, to enable the gas to rise, and then transfer it to Israel and to the gas companies.

“While that is the main idea, the work is actually very complex. Many steps are required; control systems and advanced technologies need to be manipulated constantly. Beyond managing the rig on a daily basis, my role requires me to be familiar with the newest technologies in the field. On the barge we receive gas from wells that we drill according to the development plan, carried out by engineers.

But the gas may be unclean, so there is a process of separating the gas from liquids and residues that get mixed in during production. We do filtering procedures first, on the rig, before transferring the gas to the mainland. In addition, we work with control systems at all times to ensure that everything runs properly and effectively, according to requirements.”

NIVA DUKLER, 30, with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in oil and gas engineering from the Technion, is a drilling engineer.

Since there is currently no drilling, she serves as a process engineer in the company, a position integral to the gas production process and its maintenance.

“My training included working on oil rigs,” she says. “I spent time drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The best learning you can do in this field is just to be there. It is a very complex process involving numerous parameters. You need to work closely with geologists, drilling engineers and experts in a range of fields, such as geophysicists who do pre-drilling work, and more.

“There are a lot of people who work on a drilling rig,” she explains. “There is a lining engineer responsible for everything related to the positioning of the tube in the ground. There is a mud engineer, because the drilling is done with fluid and the drilling fluid is used as a lubricant for the drill itself. It is necessary to use a range of fluids in the drilling process suitable to the drilling pressure and to prevent the escape of gas.”

Dukler is waiting for the establishment of Leviathan drilling rig, when she will return to her original profession. Today, as a process engineer, she spends time on land and sea. "There is a production platform (rig); some of the process is done at sea and some on the beach. Out on the Tamar production platform, I monitor operations; I also work onsite in Ashdod, in order to inject the gas.

“From there the gas goes to Israel for distribution.

I'm involved in several projects as part of the production process.

“As a drilling engineer in the Gulf of Mexico I learned that every moment is critical. As part of my training I took courses in the engineering side, related to drilling – such as how to plan a well, drill fluids, and other typical problems. During the time that they were not drilling in Israel, I studied abroad. Being there where it all started gave me the appropriate training for drilling on Leviathan.”

Isn’t the drilling industry a very masculine environment? “I have been mostly surrounded by men in the work I’ve done so far in the field of drilling. There is a lot of physical work. But in the non-physical work, there is no impediment to a female engineer.

In the Gulf of Mexico there were mainly men on the rig, but it didn't bother me. In Brazil, for example, there are many women in the field. Wherever I was, they treated me with respect and appreciation, and I have always felt safe in every way. I enjoy it. I have learned a lot, and people are always supportive.”

Although Dukler is pregnant, she does not stop for a moment. “It’s not a problem, I keep going to work and that does not bother me, it’s part of life.

This work is important to me, because Zionism is involved, contributing to the state. I know how important the issue is and how it can promote our country’s well-being significantly. I feel like I'm contributing.”

Dukler says that most Israeli workers receive excellent training. “The field has been active in the region for 13 years, even a bit more,” she elaborates.

“Training of Israelis is from scratch. Noble Energy has employed many people, and they train the workforce. There are many aspects to the work.

Although it all involves oil and gas, engineers who work in the field don’t necessarily grasp it all.

Working together, engineers can deliver solutions to virtually any matter.

“In terms of training there are areas that are newer, because technology pioneers in Israel operate in cutting-edge territory, but because the work is being done with an American company that can send experts with 30 years of experience, there are no worries. Little by little you see more Israelis integrating into the field, and this warms my heart.”

There is one subject that Dukler and Ben-Shitrit prefer not to expand on: the outlines of the gas dispute.

“We are Israelis and very patriotic; what is important to us is for the citizens of Israel to receive the best gas with the right agreement,” they say.

Ben Sheetrit adds that “the development of Leviathan will greatly increase the number of workers in the field, and will add many jobs on the barge itself and in related companies that provide services to the industry.”

Translated by Maya Pelleg

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