What does life look like for UWA Science Graduates? We’ve reached out to a bunch of graduates to see what their days look like now they don’t have to prep for labs or study for exams. We started by asking Allison Selman where her degree has taken her. 

Allison completed a Bachelor of Commerce (Management & Marketing) and Bachelor of Engineering (Materials Engineering) at UWA. 

Since graduating from UWA in 1998, my career has taken  many turns. Today, I am a specialist in Subsea Integrity Management – a bit of a niche profession – which I did not even know existed as a student.

Subsea Infrastructure

Offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling started in 1891, with shallow water developments that were drilled from platforms built on piles in fresh water lakes and accessed from jetties. The first subsea pipelines were installed by the British as part of Operation PLUTO  during World War II; PLUTO being  an abbreviation for “Pipe Lines Underwater Transportation of Oil”. These pipelines traversed the English Channel,  purposed for securing the supply of oil. Modern offshore oil and gas developments boomed only after World War II, as the world became more fuel hungry.

Today, there are thousands of developments throughout the worlds’ oceans. In addition to oil and gas, the marine industry installs jetties that dot the shorelines, the offshore sustainable energy section (wind, tidal and wave) is growing and subsea mining is the next industrial frontier.

Integrity Management

Asset integrity management refers to maintaining the condition of an asset, so it retains its ability to function effectively and efficiently.

In short – I turned out to be a mechanic of offshore infrastructure.

Asset integrity management is achieved through carrying out inspection, monitoring, maintenance and repair activities.

Inspection and monitoring are tasks carried out to collect condition data. Inspection refers to the physical activities that are carried out (such as visual or non-destructive inspection), whereas monitoring refers to on-line data that is continuously collected and available for analysis (such as pressure, temperature and flowrate).

Maintenance and repair are tasks carried out to maintain or restore functional capability. Maintenance refers to planned activities that are recommended by the equipment manufacturer (such as a change of hydraulic fluids), whereas repair refers to work performed to remove a defective component and restore functionality.

Subsea Technology

I am both a technology geek and a lover of the ocean environment; and I am fortunate to be able to meld my passions through my profession. As a mechanic of offshore infrastructure, my tool box consists of a range of highly sophisticated range of technologies.

Given that offshore infrastructure can be kilometres deep, specialised remote technology is used to perform inspection, monitoring, maintenance and repair activities. The limits of Saturation Diving operations (and the depths to which a human can dive to) is around 300 meters. But really, not one likes pushing the limits and going beyond 200 meters. So, to inspect the assets, we use underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) that can withstand the pressures or return data through sonar technology. The ROVs can be fitted with a range of manipulators (it’s “hands”) and tools, controlled by its pilot who deftly manoeuvres the ROV to perform a range of underwater tasks.

There are also “intelligent pigs” that traverse inside pipelines and these use a variety of sensors to measure a range of parameters such as wall thickness, ovality and position, to return data on the internal condition of a pipeline. These “intelligent pigs” can withstand the pressures, temperatures, chemical composition and flow velocities of a hydrocarbon pipeline.

Add to the above, a plethora of non-destructive testing equipment such as drones, ultrasonic testing, pulsed eddy current, field gradient measurements, alternating current field measurement, and direct current voltage gradient measurements; the technological options are mind-blowing and continue to get better with time. Many of these are now deployed by robotics, improving accessibility, reducing cost and reducing risk to human lives for challenging inspection areas.

Integrity and Risk Engineering

Regardless of the technology that is employed, inspection and monitoring activities return data that is then processed by engineers, who “make sense” of the data that is being recorded.

In addition to the physical interpretation of data, a risk assessment process is commonly applied to manage the outcomes of the data. Risk assessment is used to rank the hazards or threats based on the likelihood and consequence of failure. It is a process that enables priorities to be assigned to the address highest areas of risk.

So, when inspection and monitoring data tell us that there is a high risk of functional failure, this is when action is needed to remediate the situation by maintaining or repairing the asset.

Outcomes of Integrity Management

So why is integrity management important?

The inspection, monitoring, maintenance and repair programs that are specified aim to ensure the asset remains integral for its service. Integrity management helps organisations manage their asset risk effectively and efficiently.

In most cases, failure results in business interruption. When the asset contains hydrocarbons, failure results in loss of containment (i.e. hydrocarbon release), which can negatively impact the environment or human beings depending on the product, its location, local environment and volume. My job helps to make sure this does not happen.

My career as an integrity engineer has it challenges, but it is also very rewarding. The industry remunerates fairly well and equitably (merit-based) and offers a diverse range of career opportunities. It also indulges my love of travel and allows me to work in an international arena, as engineering qualifications are generally recognised world-wide.. Mostly, I love the technical challenges and team work that is required in almost every project. With experience, the challenges get harder and the projects get bigger. I’m lucky to look forward to my job each day.

Allison Selman