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Why African leaders must plan along the 2050 clean energy target, by Okoye

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Cyprian Emeka Okoye, an engineer, is an Oil and Gas professional with 25 years of experience in wells drilling, completions, workover and rigless operations. He works with one of the global oil and gas giants. In this interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, Editor, he spoke on the energy transition debate, stressing that by 2050, electric cars would be very common and most sources of power would be renewable energy; his biggest challenge and achievements as an oil and gas industry worker and more. Excerpts:

May we know a little about your educational background and career?

In January 1998 and 2004 respectively, I got my first degree in the area of Petroleum Engineering (B.Eng) and Master degree in Gas engineering (M.Eng) in the same University of Port Harcourt. I went through the mandatory one year NYSC service with Nigeria Agip Oil Company LTD ENI, Port Harcourt in Rivers State. After the NYSC, I was employed and have been working for 25 years in the Well Operations Department till date and I was recently promoted to the position of Assistant Well Operation Manager. The ENI Company is one of the major Oil and Gas Exploration and Production companies in Nigeria and this is a specific sector within the oil and gas industry linked to the early stage of energy production, which generally involves searching for and extracting oil and gas. In addition, I have also acquired some technical accomplishments through the responsibility of evaluating new completion, workover, wireline, and well testing technologies and products. My assessments have played a pivotal role in enhancing the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and safety of drilling/completion and workover operations in ENI, Nigeria.

The Coronavirus pandemic has left in its wake a lot of disruptions in all areas of human endeavor, including the oil and gas sector; what major disruptions have your industry witnessed as a result of the pandemic and how positively or negatively has it affected drilling, completions, workover and rigless operations in your industry?

The shutdown period due to the pandemic disrupted all aspects of human endeavour, and the Oil and Gas, despite its high regards to Health, Safety and Environment, was not exempted. Operations cost increased due to the extra medical checks; thus, impacting the overall cost of operations. The evolution of the virus brought disruptions that affected the industry significantly.

The virus forced many companies to either slow or halt physical operations, thereby impacting production in the upstream sector. Social distancing and lockdown have caused disruptions to major oil and gas projects as government directives forced companies to lay off employees. Overall, the pandemic caused huge global socioeconomic disruptions, which directly or indirectly affected the environment like improvement of air and water.

How has technology and innovation contributed in cost control, contract management and in efficient completions, workover and rigless process? Kindly share your experience in relation to Pre and Post COVID times?

There have been very few notable new technologies that have been introduced due to the impact of COVID on the economy. However, there have been a series of innovative thinking from players of the Oil and Gas industry in managing the effect of COVID.

Post–COVID-19 condition (PCC) is characterised by the persistence of symptoms such as fatigue, dyspnea, and what is commonly referred to as “brain fog”. We need to take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. Take care of your body, make time to unwind and connect with others.

As a Petroleum Engineer, with specialisation in well drilling, completions, workover and rigless operations; what does your work entail?

I am passionate and very committed to the drilling/completion and workover engineering profession. When you do a job that involves your intellect and your whole being; that is the secret with this job. It comes with different challenges per time letting you always put on your thinking cap. At the design stage, you have to visualise all the possible outcomes and mitigate against any problem. Safety and Health is a factor that is always considered at all points of our workflow.

What would you term the biggest drawback of drilling, completions, workover and rigless engineers in Africa, if any?

The drilling, completion and workover engineers’ job is very highly specialised, and competitive. Academic requirements are one of the potential disadvantages for engineers due to the set of entry requirements. We still depend on expertise on almost all we do in the oil and gas industry but it is difficult to identify competent and experienced professionals.

What would you say is the future of Petroleum Engineering and Deep Water well construction, completions, workover and rigless operations? How prepared are you for this future vis-a-viz the lessons the Coronavirus pandemic has taught business leaders across sectors?

We would still be getting better with cost optimisation and accident elimination in all of our activities in the Oil and Gas industry.

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.

World leaders have set a net zero target for the year 2050. Most of the major oil and gas companies have made commitment to the Net Zero target and they are all taking actions to meet the target. This would be bad news for most African nations that depend on proceeds from oil and gas for their development and growth.

I will advise African leaders to plan along these lines because by 2050, electric cars would be very common and most sources of power would be renewable energy.

Note that the Nigerian Government designed the Energy Transition Plan to tackle the dual crises of energy poverty and climate change and reach net-zero status by 2060, while also providing energy for development, industrialisation, and economic growth.

Read also: MTN Nigeria targets net zero emissions with clean energy investment

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?

One of the biggest challenges I experienced was during a drilling operation. After well was drilled to total depth (TD), circulated and cleanout the bottom hole of the well bore, several abortive attempts were made to pullout of hole, and we got stuck with the drilling string. This necessitated cutting the drill string, set bridge and cement plugs, performed sidetrack drilling, and finally complete the well as per initially planned. No way of quitting, I acknowledge that the nature of my job poses many challenges but I have never thought of any way of quitting because the petroleum engineering job has been what I sleep, eat and dream of everyday with joy. It is always good to take responsibility and get job satisfaction.

I have not thought of quitting and may never think of quitting. Another biggest challenge in my career has been the challenges that the job throws at me per time. Sometimes, I needed to study and get more knowledge to meet up with the challenge.

You have worked in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria for about 25 years now. What has your experience been and what would you term your greatest achievement so far?

My experience in the oil and gas industry has been a smooth one and very interesting because of the nature of the activities in drilling, completion and rigless operations. The greatest achievement was the planning and execution (with my team) to drill and complete HP/HT wells without any major challenges. Also another achievement in the area of my profession is developing/mentoring young engineers.

What are the latest models in Well Planning and Completions? How do you select the right drilling, completions and workover equipment for drilling operations?

Crude oil wells come with different fluid content and different well pressures, different depth of location of reservoir and other factors. All these factors determine the design and the equipment for us.

See listed types of latest models: Conventional wells, Sidetrack wells, Horizontal wells, Multilateral wells, and coiled tubing drilling. Selection of drilling or workover equipment depends on the type of operations we are planning. For drilling, you will select a high power drilling rig which is a major equipment to use while workover rigs are very similar to drilling rigs in that they are truck-mounted mobile rigs that travel between job sites on public roads. The selection of completion equipment is determined based on the number of production levels to be drilled.

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

A great way to prevent unfettered offshore drilling is to formulate an ocean management plan to better understand the tradeoffs of offshore development and to help identify locations for renewable energy projects. The ocean affects us all in positive ways, no matter if you live on the coastline or in the desert. It provides climate regulation, food, jobs, livelihoods, and economic progress. Thus, we must work together to protect and save the ocean for the sake of our future survival on this planet.

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?

The focus is usually on helping the mentee develop their skills and knowledge in a particular area. I strongly believe the best form of mentorship is experience on the job development.

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? I thank God for the support of my family and their understanding. This is because the nature of the job is always challenging and needs your commitment and time in order to focus on the project. That will definitely make one not have sufficient time for the family. Notwithstanding, with the support and understanding of my wife, I have been able to navigate this aspect with minimal impact.

How rewarding is your job, given the risks involved?

The most rewarding aspect of the job is to constantly develop the skills you need to succeed in the future; for example, dealing with new technologies. Another important reward for me are recognitions and advancements in my field of career.

How do you relax, when you are not thinking of well drilling, well completions, workover and rigless related issues?

Spending time with my family. I just step away from something stressful for a few minutes or taking time away from my normal routines and thoughts. Take a break. Listening to the word of God always gives me inspiration, spending some time in nature. Try guided meditation and have a total review of the past activities.

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

I personally do not think Petroleum Engineering is a career for the future. With the push for Net Zero by 2050 by world leaders and the bias against Oil and gas and the link of Oil and gas to global warming and climate change; Petroleum Engineering may not be the best career for the future.