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Remote operations now a game changer in offshore deep-water drilling operations – Ekutu

Ogba Ekutu is a versatile Well Construction Petroleum Engineer with over 10 years professional experience in the development and deployment of Seismic technology, Logging-While-Drilling (LWD), Directional Drilling, and Project Management, with a focus on providing and, where necessary, creating tools and technologies for tailor-made service delivery. He works for one of the leading oilfield service companies globally. In this interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, he said The Seismic Well Drilling service is still a cutting-edge technology needing detailed and early planning, integrating Wireline technicians, Petrophysics experts and Drilling Engineers. He also said that the oil and gas sector has no option but to listen to nature, redesign how professionals work and comply with the laws to promote cleaner energy. Excerpts:

May we know a little more about you?

As earlier stated, my name is Ogba Ekutu. I am a 1st class graduate of the University of Benin, Edo State Nigeria. I am an engineer by profession with over 10 years experience working in the Oil & Gas sector. I am an expert in the development and deployment of Seismic technology, Logging-While-Drilling (LWD), Directional Drilling, and Project Management, with a focus on providing and, where necessary, creating tools and technologies for tailor-made service delivery. I am currently on the employ of Schlumberger, the leading oilfield service company globally.

The coronavirus pandemic has left in its wake a lot of disruptions in allareas of human endeavor, 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 Geo Markets resource management and effective asset netting and optimisation in your industry?

First, my condolences to all those who have lost a loved one in the ongoing pandemic. This is quite an unprecedented situation in the Oil and Gas sector. Suffice to say the industry was not ready for the hit the pandemic came with. We have witnessed globally, fluctuation of the oil price, rift between nations but nothing of this scale. We had some company stocks going in the negative, people losing jobs, businesses closing shop etc.

The Oil & Gas sector has been characterised by lots of waste in spending. One of the positives that came out of the disruptions brought about by the pandemic was the need to become leaner in organisation. Adaptability became a must to be able to survive. Geomarkets were restructured with the customer still at the centre to be more proactive and faster in making decisions. Another positive is the deployment of cutting-edge technology through advance digitalisation. One of such is the push for remote operations in offshore deep-water drilling operations. This has proven to be a game changer with the ongoing situation as we have seen situation where a planned drilling crew member tested positive to Covid-19 and could not physically make it offshore. To ensure operations were not put on hold, remote operations has proven to be the solution. This is where task which were traditional perform by physical crew offshore are now done remotely with no one physically onboard the rig.

Read Also: Drilling contractors see positive outlook for oil, gas

There seem to be a shift globally from fossil fuels (hydrocarbon) to renewable or clean energy, which will no doubt cause some disruptions in the energy sector, in your opinion, how is the energy sector and major oil and gas producing nations responding to or preparing for this shift?

There is no running from this shift. The past and recent events we have and are witnessing are clearly showing the impact of climate change. The Oil and Gas sector have no option but to listen to nature, redesign how we work and comply with the laws to aid for cleaner energy. There is no major change that will not come with initial disruptions, but the long-term effect and result is what is paramount. We need cleaner renewable energy to be able to survive. With more countries adopting bills to stop the use of fossil fuels, this change is imminent.

We are seeing sustainability programs and initiatives being rolled out with my company taking measured steps in this regard.

Let us get to your profession now. As a Well Construction Drilling and Measurement Product & Service Delivery Manager, with specialisation in Seismic technology, offshore deepwater operations and project management; what does your work entail?

As a Product & Service Delivery Manager, I am responsible for planning, design, execution and closure of projects in partnership with international, regional, and local oil companies across virtually every possible drilling environment, including land, swamp and Deepwater offshore drilling. I manage operations across many countries; hence there is a lot of travelling. I am the main point-of-contact with our oil company partners, meeting with them to ascertain the requirements for eachspecific project. I then plan and oversee every aspect of the job. That includes coordinating with theoperations team – to ensure the equipment is fit for purpose and, where needed, to develop modifications, new techniques, or even new tools to meet that purpose; the resource team – to ensure the assets/equipment required are available; and the maintenance team – toensure the equipment needed is properly maintained. I then oversee project execution, leading a team of Directional Drilling Engineers and Measurement Engineers who execute the job as per my design, all while being responsible for ensure both environmental and personnel safety throughout.

What is the most challenging project you have delivered? How did you feel after delivering such a project?

I started my career with Schlumberger as a Field Engineer in Angola, one of the most oil-rich nations on the continent. I have worked with multiple major international oil company partners, ranging from Total E&P, Cobalt Energy, PlusPetrol, Petrobras, Repsol, Perenco and Cairn Energy to name a few.

All projects have unique challenges. However, I would say the most challenging was my work in introducing and standardising Seismic While Drilling Technology across Angola in 2014. The Seismic Well Drilling service is still cutting-edge technology andwas the most complex LWD service at the time. Most engineers shy from it even now due to its operational complexity – as seismic jobs entail detailed and early planning, integrating Wireline technicians, Petrophysics experts and Drilling Engineers – and at the time I was one of a very few who was capable to executing the latest tools.

I created and deployed Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for this technology – the first such procedures put to paper in the region – then created training forseismic engineers and, finally, creating a resource page based upon my SOP and training that has since been adopted by the company as a globally-accessible, real-time reference. My standardisation of this service led to other clients within the region utilise these Seismic technologies, and my SOPs and training are still in use as a blueprint for delivering flawless Seismic service.

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?

Working with any major oilfield service company is a challenge, with constant demand and high expectations. That is what makes the job exciting and fulfilling –pride in achieving even the most difficult client objectives.

One of my biggest challenges was transitioning from Seismic Field Engineer to a Directional Drilling Engineer. Directional Drilling Engineers are responsible for the actual drilling of the well, ensuring it follows a planned trajectory. Most directional drilling involves navigating around other offset live wells, with which a collision would be catastrophic. The challenge is to provide that precise control while, at the same time, performing efficiently enough to avoid expensive non-productive time for our partners.

My first experience as a Directional Drilling Engineer was in 2017, drilling on a land rig for Perenco Oil & Gas in Gabon. The objective was to deviate from the current well due to a fish (object) left in the hole. It was the most tense situation in which I had ever been involved. However, even with all that pressure, I was able to deliver a precise, accurate well trajectory, incurring praise from both the client and my internal company management.

Quitting? No, it has never crossed my mind.

You have worked in the oil and gas industry across Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola, Ghana, and Gambia for about 11 years now.What has your experience been and what would you term your greatest achievement so far?

It has been a rewarding experience and you barely realise how much time has flown by. From having to work through different cultures with the pressure still to deliver regardless, it is always good to relish the success when everything goes well and sometimes not so well. My career has been blessed with many achievements.I have garnered outstanding annual appraisals over the last 7 years, with multiple individual awards and accolades from both my company and our major international oil and gas partners. Now I am involved in the efficient and complex restarting of operational bases that were shut down by the COVID pandemic as the industry roars back to life.

It is difficult to pinpoint anyone as my greatest achievement. Each of these achievements came with their own special feeling.

You have worked on different projects with different teams in Nigeria, Cameroun, Angola, and Senegal, among others. How has your experience working overseas helped in your new role?

My experience working in these countries has greatly helped in my current role. While I deliver may the same high-quality service, each company with which we partner worldwide will typically have their own procedures and standards. A key to success is flexibity. I must adapt my way of working to suit our partners’ work cultures while maintaining integrity of operations, processes and procedures without compromising health, safety and environmental standards. Because I have dealt with many international partner companies, I have some leverage in managing customer relationships across many corporate cultures.

What other projects and write up have you worked on or currently working on within the Well Construction and Measurement division?

As mentioned, I successfully standardised the Seismic While Drilling service in 2014 for the entire Angola GeoMarket. This is still being used as a template for delivering this service not only within Africa, but also globally through our internal company resource. To put this success in context, Seismic while drilling technology is typically deployed in deep water offshore drilling operation where the daily rig cost is as high as $1m dollars per day, so any service quality issue has huge financial consequences. Getting the service standardised enabled us to eliminate any service quality while continuously improving the delivery process.

In 2017, I was the lead Seismic Engineer for the deployment of the Seismic While Drilling Technology for Cairn Energy – a $400m company with projects across three continents. Not only was I the lead Engineer on the Seismic deployment but also was the lead Engineer in the other logging while drilling service deployed for the client.

Currently I am working on standardising Gyro while drilling technology in Cameroon.

Has Seismic technology evolved within your region and, how has it impacted well drilling and optimisation? What would you say is the future of well drilling and construction Projects? How prepared are you for this future?

This is a good question. I recently had a scholarly article published about the evolution of Seismic technology. Digitisation is now allowing many seismic tasks to be run remotely. Meanwhile, where we ran a single traditional Seismic tool in a BHA (Bottom Hole Assembly), I recently deployed two of these tools for the 1st time in a single BHA, significantlyreducing uncertainty from the surface seismic data.This was a first of its kind achievement and a record success.As a reflection of improved accuracy in relation to cost, more clients are running Seismic while drilling technology than ever before. I am involved in seismic projects from Senegal to Gambia, and the technology is being adopted across the globe. This obviously translates to improved revenue and topline growth for the company.

As regards the future of well drilling, we are seeing more integration of services, which is giving rise to multiskilling. Essentially the services are linked that same individual can perform it. Foremost in pushing for this integration is the use of technology. I recently acquired my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, recognising the future is all about custom-managed, fit-for-purpose projects.

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?

While I have not officially been named a “mentor” (the company recently started a mentorship programme which I intend to actively participate), through my leadership positions and training of younger and less experienced engineers, I have made every effort to motivate, inspire, and – yes – mentor others in the industry.

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?

Family for me is everything. My job requires me to be away most of the time, missing birthdays, your child saying their first words, anniversaries etc., but I am able to provide a comfortable life for my family.Fortunately, I have a very supportive spouse who is also in the same industry. I make use of technology to stay in tune with my family

How rewarding is your job, given the risks involved?

The job is pretty rewarding. Every job involves risk. It is successfully management of these risks that is key to job satisfaction. The feeling of seeing my company and its major multinational partners achieve their objectives thanks to my efforts is exhilarating.

How do you relax, when you are not thinking of field, technical and support functions in oilfield operations?

I enjoy watching football and spending time with family as much as possible

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

Never stop developing yourself. Do not be afraid to take on challenges. Stay diligent and focused. It will pay off in the end.

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