The Chemical Engineer that shaped my life

This is a challenging topic, I judge that the person setting the challenge certainly had a sense of the devilish, it is very hard to answer! 

A Chemical Engineer did change my life, so I do admire him (and owe him in many ways).   

At a critical time in my life’s journey this Chemical Engineer helped me establish a trajectory that granted me a fabulous career, the opportunity to experience a significant portion of this marvellous world and explore a variety of its rich cultures and provide the opportunity to raise my family against an international backdrop – all good you may say. 

BUT - I do not remember his name!  I must explain. 

I am not one of those lucky people that know, from an early age, what they want to do in life. I guess I am not gifted in this dimension. I did know from an early stage that I wanted to be in different places, I had the urge to leave my birthplace (South Yorkshire) and explore what I judged to be a world of excitement and wonder.  I possessed wanderlust and curiosity. 

In 1975 I was working a long summer job on the Island of Flotta in the Orkneys, located in the magnificent body of water known as Scapa Flow 

Flotta 2007, aerial. Source Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Chris

Via a circuitous route I managed to score a job in the light vehicle garage serving a ~2,500-person construction camp busy building one of the first North Sea Oil terminals. The North Sea Oil boom was well in play. I was well paid, happy in the wonderful harsh landscape and enjoying a “boys own” experience.  

One evening I took a walk to the American (Bechtel) engineers' camp and was generously welcomed by them, I listened to their stories of around the world construction experiences, it was very exotic. One Bechtel Chemical Engineer took time to show me the drawings section. He walked me through the construction of the terminal and how the processes worked. Essentially it was an oil stabilisation and trans-shipment facility, stripping out volatiles and compressing for shipping as LPG alongside the stabilised crude oil product. The facility was designed to receive crude from the Piper and Claymore fields. This was well before the terrible Piper Alpha incident

We talked about his career and education, he was very generous with his time and explained Chemical Engineering to me. He used a phrase I have oft repeated, describing his profession as “the swiss army knife of engineering”. From that day on I wanted to be a Chemical Engineer and the rest is history.  

So this is my story, a generous and kind Bechtel Chemical Engineer taking time to talk to someone (me) that was seeking a direction. I just wish I had his name so I could personally thank him!   

There is perhaps a lesson in this story for all of us. We should take the time to explain to others what we do. In coming decades we will be challenged to do extraordinary things in a world increasingly driven by society-wide Sustainable Development needs, and we will need all the Chemical Engineers we can attract to this fabulous, ever changing, profession. 

Ps .. the BBC recently reported the below (I quote).…..  

"Plans to turn the Flotta Oil Terminal in Orkney into one of the world's first large-scale green hydrogen plants have been unveiled.  

French oil giant Total Energies is part of a consortium proposing to use offshore wind power to produce hydrogen on an industrial scale at the facility. 

Terminal operator Repsol Sinopec said it wanted to transition away from oil and gas towards green energy.  It is expected the earliest it could be up and running would be 2028."

So more exciting new jobs for more Chemical Engineers in a growing (green) energy sector; the world is truly a great place! 

Flotta Oil Terminal. Source Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Calum McRoberts

This story has been contributed by Past President John McGagh