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Covid-19 disruption reinforced our belief in agility and in way of operation – Deniga

Covid-19 disruption reinforced our belief in agility and in way of operation – Deniga

Babatunde Deniga is an Oil and Gas professional with 13 years of experience in Petroleum Engineering Management, specialising in the design, creation and execution of cutting-edge technology, tools and techniques for production optimization through sand control completions and stimulation measures. He is the Reservoir Performance Project Coordinator for Nigeria and West Africa for a global leading company in the energy industry. In this interview with Zebulon Agomuo, Editor, he spoke on the impact of technology in process improvement in the oil and gas industry, energy transition debate. Excerpts:

Kindly tell us a little about yourself?

I am Babatunde Deniga, I am an Engineer by profession with 13 years of experience working in the Oil and Gas industry. I hold a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Lagos and Master’s degree from Heriot-Watt University both in Petroleum Engineering. I am an expert in the field of Petroleum Engineering Management, specialising in the design, creation and execution of cutting-edge technology, tools and techniques for production optimization through sand control completions and stimulation measures. I am the Reservoir Performance Project Coordinator for Nigeria and West Africa for a global leading company in the energy industry.

Read also: FG debunks discovery of new COVID-19 variant in Ebonyi

The coronavirus pandemic has left in its wake a lot of disruptions in all areas of human endeavour, including the oil and gas sector, what major disruptions has your industry witnessed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and how positively or negatively has it affected drilling, project management and Sand Completions operations in your industry?

The Oil and Gas industry has shown tremendous resilience in recovering from what we all hope is a once in a lifetime event. We were locked in place like everyone else, however we are a hands-on industry with people in the field that needed to be protected from this virus to maintain business continuity, if the virus made to a platform, everyone would need to be isolated and field activities would be interrupted. Due to the lockdown, people could not move around for crew change and other critical services so summarily there was serious strain on manpower and logistics. My area of expertise involves completing new wells and keeping mid-life/late-life assets performing optimally so, we had disruptions on both services, new completions took a while to recover while stimulation services recovered quickly as it became even more critical to restore any underperforming wells when new drills were on a pause. Ultimately, we came out of the pandemic with a laser focus on efficiency to ensure we strike a balance between efficient asset and people utilization, and meeting customer requirements. We needed to be leaner and agile yet maintain service quality and this required sound project management. I am a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) for over 10 years and the skills of scheduling, planning communication, monitoring and control served me very well in reactivating operations efficiently following the pandemic.

How has technology and innovation contributed in cost control, contract management and in efficient completions, project management and coordination process? Share your experience in relation to Pre and Post COVID times?

The Oil industry is over a century old and looking back, you see that we were more mechanical then than we are today. Today, we have smart tools that can do the same processes as before in half the time, the end goal is to cut down on rig time, to be more efficient which translates to a reduction in cost of production. Technology enables process improvements, and this translates to cost savings to us and our clients. For example, on one of my projects, I deployed a new technology that cut the fluid volume for a stimulation operation by about 60% while remediating formation damage. This meant shorter rig time, pumping time, shorter well shut-in time etc. These costs are significant in especially in deepwater environment and saved millions of dollars for which the client was very pleased. An efficient technology enables reduced human and carbon footprint due to smaller but effective solutions.

Let us get to your profession now. As a Petroleum Engineer, with specialisation in reservoir performance and coordination operations what does your work entail?

I am responsible for the design, planning, execution and closure of sand control and stimulation projects across West Africa. I review and approve all designs and procedures prior to execution. If the country of operation does not hold an active base of operations, I plan the movement of assets across borders for the execution. I am the primary point of contact for all client engagements, keeping them abreast of planning and execution schedules, people movement and product procurement. I then oversee project execution to ensure deployment of the solution as per approved design procedure and applicable standards. At the end of each execution, I debrief with my crew, review the entire operation with the client and document lessons learned for performance improvement. Finally, I oversee turnaround of equipment for next operation, demobilise to base or out of country as may be required.

What would you term the biggest drawback of drilling, completions, sand control and stimulation engineers in Africa, if any?

Having had the opportunity to work in a highly innovative multinational organization where I am exposed to cutting edge technology, I will say access technology is a bit of a disadvantage. Not every young professional right out of school will have the same opportunity. Hence, if an engineer is working with a national company, they have significantly less exposure technology compared to their peers in a multinational organization. African governments can close this gap by regulating and standardizing technology deployed in the continent as is obtainable in other developed economies.

What would you say is the future of Petroleum Engineering and reservoir performance, sand control and stimulation operations? How prepared are you for this future vis-a-viz the lessons the Coronavirus Pandemic has thought business leaders across sectors?

Our future is one in which we innovate ways to extract the most energy out of our assets with net zero carbon footprint. With the current and predicted energy mix of the future Oil and Gas will still play an important part in meeting world energy demand. The Covid-19 disruption only reinforced our belief in agility and sustainability in our way of operating.

Read also: NCDC says Eris, Pirola Covid-19 variant not in Nigeria

The energy transition debate: African leaders want more time to enable Africa industrialise with resources available to her before joining the clean energy transition proposition. What is your take on this? Give us your thoughts on the energy transition as a whole?

The transition to and increasing dependence on cleaner forms of energy is inevitable. However, we must be socially responsible to the environment with every decision we make today, not just moving from one form of energy to another. As of today, and still for a while in the future, fossil fuels dominate as the source of energy to meet rising global energy demand. So, while we are in different phases in the transition journey, we all have opportunities to reduce carbon footprint today for example, zero gas flaring in Africa is a low hanging fruit in our efforts to be greener and this is no rocket science.

What would you remember as the biggest challenges you have ever faced in your career? How did you resolve them? Have you ever thought of quitting? Any incident that made you want to quit?

Challenges are part of daily life, and there are so many hurdles I have overcome to date that I cannot pinpoint a single one as the greatest, each success has increased my capacity to withstand and overcome the next challenge so, I have never thought of quitting, nor have I avoided any challenges in my line of work. However, it helps to be resilient and analytic as an individual, it is extremely important to have mentors to guide you at inception of your career and to have an enabling environment to gain the required skills and build confidence. These are the tools with which I push through the many challenges I have faced to date. I have worked with multiple international clients in different countries, on different environmental and operational complexities each with its unique challenges. Being technically capable, respecting people and the rule of law where you work is 99% of the solution.

You have worked in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria for about 13 years now in Nigeria, West, Eastern and Southern Africa, what has your experience been and what would you term your greatest motivation or achievement so far?

Time flies by when you are having fun. The experience of encountering and solving unique problems is such a thrill. Working in an innovative environment where your purpose is to create, deploy and improve on existing technologies to resolve customer challenges has been my greatest motivation. This is heavily reflected in multiple outstanding annual appraisals, awards and client recognitions over the years.

What are the steps taken to protect aquatic environments while drilling and completing well projects?

Zero-spill. We use, utilize the most environmentally friendly chemicals possible and even then, we aim to spill absolutely nothing in the environment we work. This requires integrity tests of all containing equipment to the highest applicable standards and pressure testing of high-pressure equipment. We install spill containment materials for example drain pans booms etc., to hold fluids in the unlikely event of a spill and follow approved contingency plans to mitigate environmental impact. Any excess fluids are disposed of responsibly by chemical disposal companies.

Are you involved in any form of mentorship of young people, whether in Africa or abroad as a way of giving back to society? What is the focus of this mentoring programme, if there is such, and how is it structured?

As I mentioned earlier, mentorship is extremely important to build competency and I personally enjoy the experience. I have mentored several engineers within my organization through their early career development. I have also been recognized severally by the Society of Petroleum Engineers for my volunteer service as a mentor to young professionals, SPE typically pairs a mentor to 2 mentees at a time for a period of 1 year and the primary objective is to share industry experience and help them navigate their next career development phase. For example, some of my mentees pursued a Masters degree while some went straight into a job right after their Bachelor’s degree. At the end of the year, both mentor and mentee share their experience with the SPE. I have been an SPE e-mentor for over 10 years.

What’s your family life like? We know it could be quite a bit of a challenge for people in your profession, especially when you must be on a project for a long time?

My family is everything to me. I am happily married with 3 lovely children. I have a very capable and supportive spouse who keeps the home stable when I am away while also navigating her own demanding career. The stability she provides goes a long way in keeping me focused on the job when abroad and of course, current technology enables video calls with the family.

Read also: US, UK other report rise in new ‘Eris’ COVID-19 infection

How rewarding is your job, given the risks involved?

Every job involves some risk though some more than others, the end goal is customer satisfaction. There is great satisfaction in conceptualizing a design and seeing it through infancy to completion, more so my company is a global leader in the industry and living up to that reputation is quite a rewarding experience.

How do you relax, when you are not thinking of well drilling, reservoir performance, sand control completions and stimulation operations?

I enjoy watching my favorite football club and more importantly spending time with the family because the next international assignment is never very far away.

What would be your advice to aspiring and early career Petroleum Engineers?

Be focused, be resilient, seek out good mentors and always aim to develop yourself.