Airbus to Abu Dhabi: Chris’s expat adventures

Energy and Power June 30, 2021

RSK Senior Geoenvironmental Engineer Chris Ball left our Tonbridge, UK, office in 2018 for new adventures in Abu Dhabi. After three years working for RSK overseas, he returns to Tonbridge and brings with him stories of his time with RSK Middle East.

“A country is not measured by the size of its area on the map. A country is truly measured by its heritage and culture,” said the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, former ruler of Abu Dhabi. And thank goodness for that, as four years ago I would not have even been able to point to the UAE on a map! This would all change in April 2018, as I made my way to Abu Dhabi on an Airbus A380. I did not know at the time, but the luxury and grandeur of this plane were signs of things to come.

Work

“We were like those who had climbed a mountain and reached the top. When we looked down, we still wanted to go higher to realise our goals. Despite all the achievements, we still have an ambition for more. That is my way of looking at things.” (Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan)

My move to Abu Dhabi was an internal transfer from the Tonbridge office in Kent where I was working as a senior geoenvironmental engineer specialising in geoenvironmental and geotechnical site investigations. I wanted to use my experience of site investigation, project management and reporting to help shore up the back-office support provided for two of our largest clients, Basrah Gas Company (BGC) and the Rumaila Operating Organisation (ROO).

A rotary drilling rig, Abu Dhabi

Both BGC and ROO are located in southern Iraq. This meant multiple trips into Iraq for work, with approximately ten trips made between my arrival in 2018 and the end of 2019. I really enjoyed the challenge that such trips presented. The natural environment in Iraq is hot and dusty, reaching summer temperatures in excess of 50°C. Transport for expatriate staff is tightly controlled and all movements between airport, camp and site are accompanied by armed guards riding in armoured vehicles. While I was unable to experience normal life in Basra, the nearest city to the camp, I was lucky enough to meet and form good relations with our local national staff. The warmth of the Iraqi people and the kindness with which they treat visitors are in stark contrast to the hardships they face day in and day out and are truly admirable.

My biggest challenge arrived near the end of 2019 when, while working in Iraq, a new tender request arrived at my desk. We won the job, and in the spring of 2020, RSK Middle East was commissioned to carry out a desk study, a site investigation, an environmental assessment and a remediation study for an operational oil refinery in the city of Abu Dhabi, UAE. The project, which I was in charge of managing from conception through to site work and reporting, involved carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the potential presence of land and groundwater contamination, identifying and assessing remediation options and associated costs and proposing recommended remediation options as part of the decommissioning of the refinery.

Working collaboratively with the client and the facility’s operating company, RSK designed a site investigation that met local Environment Agency regulations and guidance, as well as international best practice. It consisted of 95 exploratory hole locations, 29 of which were installed with wells for groundwater monitoring and sampling.

This project had to overcome many challenges, including summer temperatures as high as 45°C, additional risks from COVID-19 and the challenges of working on an active refinery in an unfamiliar country, managing a mixed team with different religious and cultural perspectives. Through hard work and determination, the team was able to complete the required scope and submit the findings to the client within the specified timescale and budget.

Play

“Wealth is not in money. Wealth lies in men, this is where true power lies, the power we value.” (Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan)

While in Abu Dhabi I got heavily involved in watersports, in particular waterskiing, scuba diving and dragon boating with the Beach Rotana Piranhas. A real highlight for me was skydiving on the Palm Dubai and travelling at 150 kph from Jebel Jais (1934 m altitude), the highest point in the UAE and home to the world’s longest zipline. There was always something going on. I went to the tennis, the F1, to see Trevor Noah, to the Dubai sevens twice and to concerts by The Weeknd, Lana Del Ray, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Marshmello, The Killers and Kylie Minogue.

There is so much to see in the UAE and it is true that there is something there for everyone, whether you like water, white sandy beaches, mountains or desert or if you are more interested in the city lights, fast cars and adventure.

While I enjoyed the fast cars and ‘toys’, material objects suddenly seemed far less important. “If there is one thing Abu Dhabi has taught me, it is that stuff is just stuff,” our RSK Middle East General Manager Rachael Ryder once said to me, and this is certainly true.

As with anything in life, the experience was only as good as the people I got to share it with. In that regard I was lucky. I must conclude with huge thanks to my great colleagues who helped me every step of the way. I could not have hoped for a better team to be part of; a team that became increasingly united by the challenges of being an expat and working during a global pandemic. A team that worked together and played together and made for an amazing three years for me. If you are ever given the chance to have an adventure like mine (and RSK is fantastic at supporting international transfers, there are so many amazing opportunities, given the global nature of the business), grab it with both hands.

Some of Chris’s team