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The Times: Incredible journey

February 27, 2008

Now in semi-retirement, Roger Colmer looks back on his 40-odd years of working in the oil and gas industry

Steve Smethurst

Michael Palin is probably the only person who has clocked up as many air miles as Roger Colmer. When we managed to locate the Shell veteran, he was “locked down” some 1,700km (1,000 miles) north of Perth, Australia, waiting for a tropical cyclone to pass.

He wasn’t fazed. His expat epiphany came back in 1969, when he decided to stop being a stress engineer for an aviation company and instead spend a year teaching in Jamaica with the volunteering charity VSO.

“I was always jealous of people who wanted to be vets or doctors,” he says. “It’s so straightforward [for them]. I never thought I’d go into oil and gas. But then I never envisaged taking a year off. There was just something about the overseas experience that told me I’d like to work in different cultures.”

When he returned to the UK, he found that Shell was recruiting people for overseas roles. He joined the company in 1971 and, after training in the Netherlands, was sent to the Middle East to work offshore on drilling rigs.

By his late twenties, he was a drilling superviser in Doha, Qatar, working on the oil and gas fields of the Persian Gulf. From there it was back to the Netherlands and the southern North Sea. “Different weather conditions, more regulations,” he says of the contrast.

His career progressed from various desk jobs – investigating the burgeoning computer systems that were appearing in the late 1970s, for example – to a drilling rig attached to the seabed by anchor chains in the northern North Sea. Then he really started to travel.

A job supporting drilling operations took him far and wide. “It was probably one of the hardest jobs I’ve had. I’d fly to Venezuela for a few weeks, get back, and the next day I’d have to fly to Malaysia.”

By the mid1980s, he was setting up an operation in the jungles of Sumatra, a four-hour river journey from civilisation. Then, in succession, came Norway, the Netherlands (again), Gabon, the Middle East (again) and Lowestoft. “Even that was a culture shock,” he says. “I’m from Hampshire. I’d never been to Suffolk before.”

Now in semi-retirement, Colmer is focused on raising the profile of training and development in the industry. and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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