Richmond Nduka Nwaokwu is a Petroleum Engineer with over 25 years oilfield work experience involving Drilling, Completions, Work-Over Operations, Intervention & Production Operations, Casing & Tubing design, Selection and Installation, among others. In this interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, Editor, he spoke on some critical issues in the oil and gas industry and how he started Litewell Completions Services Limited, an indigenous Oil and Gas Service company, with minimal funds. Excerpts:
By way of introduction, could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Richmond Nduka Nwaokwu, I graduated from the University of Benin where I studied Petroleum Engineering. I am an Oil and Gas professional, with about 25 years work experience in the Oil and Gas Industry.
I was opportune to work as a Completions Engineer both in Nigeria and overseas with Schlumberger Limited, a globally recognized and leading Oil and Gas Service and solutions provider in the Oil and Gas industry. I recorded close to 10years successful career with Schlumberger before leaving for a different challenge in the field of Oil and Gas Consultancy, as a Well Architect/Senior Completions Engineer with the aim of assisting emerging and newly licensed indigenous Oil and Gas producing companies develop their assets to First Oil. I worked directly or indirectly with companies like Ciequal Limited, Prime Exploration and Production Limited, Petro-Metrics Limited, Excel E&P Limited etc, before calling it quit, then decided to set up Litewell Completions Services Limited.
I am the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Litewell Completions Services Limited, a company incorporated in Nigeria about 10 years ago, with operational offices in Port-Harcourt and Warri.
Over these years, I believe, I have been able to stir the growth of Litewell in a direction where it has become one of the most sought-after indigenous Oil and Gas services providers in Nigeria with Oil and Gas on-going projects in the Niger Delta Region.
As an Oil and Gas Completions Engineer, what does your work entail?
To answer this question, I will need to explain what a Completions Engineer does. A Completions Engineer installs accessories or well jewelries’ inside a drilled and cased Oil and gas well which enables/allows these Oil and gas flow from a pressured or pressurized reservoir to surface in a safe and controlled manner. For one to be able to carry out this job description, one needs to have been trained. Earlier in my career with Schlumberger, I went through a series of technical and operational training. Much later, I went through Sales & Marketing, Managerial, Quality and Safety training as it is customary to the company and in line with Schlumberger policy of aggressively training its staff. I received what anyone would consider a world class training in the above mentioned areas of the oil and gas industry throughout my career in the company. These training afforded me the opportunity of completing several projects, both simple and complex operations on Land, Swamp, Offshore and Deepwater for several clients both in Nigeria and overseas.
My expertise borders on Completions, Work-Over, Intervention and Production operations. I am skilled in designing, planning, execution and Project management of Completions and Work-Over operations. My expertise also covers other areas of Oil and Gas operations outside Completion operation such as Casing & Tubular design, selection & installation, Bore Hole Cleaning, Electric/Wireline Logging, Drill Stem testing (DST), Tubing Conveyed Perforating (TCP), Surface Well Testing Operations, and other complex Sand control operations that requires the use of Gravel Pack and FracPack methods for its Lower Completion and Inflow Control Devices (ICD) and Multilaterals to achieve multiple zonal penetration and production for its Upper Completion. Drilling and Completions hardware equipment selection and installation
You pioneered, planned and managed several complex Completions and Work – Over Operations, involving multiple complex services, what would you remember as the biggest challenges you have ever faced in your career? How did you resolve them? Are there any particular ones that made you think of quitting?
Yes, I have been opportune to have pioneered, planned and managed several operations. As we all know, Oil and Gas operations, either simple or complex, are a high budget and a high-risk operation, with plenty of its own associated challenges. One major one that readily comes to mind, occurred very early in my career, in fact, this was my first deepwater completion project for one of the leading International Oil Companies (IOCs) in Nigeria. For the IOC, these were also their first Deepwater project in Nigeria. A substantial part of the design and project management of the wells the OIC was planning to drill and complete was done for them in-house by Schlumberger. Two of my colleagues and myself, participated in the design through the planning stages of the targeted wells, even though I was less than 2 years in Schlumberger. My colleagues and I were also tasked with the execution and completion of these wells. On the first two wells, unfortunately, everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong. Although we kept on solving the problems each time a new one came up. At some point, my colleagues and I were considering quitting as a faster means of saving face before we are officially fired by the company, because we felt a substantial amount of resources had gone into the project itself and its management. We ended up not quitting, Schlumberger did not fire us, in fact the Client recommended that we must be promoted due to our problems handling and solving skills, since we kept on solving each problem as it was being encountered. All the lessons learned on these two jobs helped us in executing 43 more jobs seamlessly without any related issues.
In your over 25 years in oilfield work experience involving Drilling, and Completions, Work – Over Operations, Intervention and Production Operations, Casing and Tubing design, Selection and Installation, among others, using so many complex soft and hardware equipment, what would you consider as your greatest achievement or biggest project you delivered and what was the feeling like?
Projects in the Oil and Gas Industry are termed to be successful if they tick three boxes, these boxes are,
Projects that ensure money is made (Profitability), Projects that ensure Savings was recorded and finally Projects that guarantees Quality of Services being rendered and Safety of personnel rendering these services.
One of such projects that comes to mind for me is, In order to reduce the amount of global inventory being held at every point in time by Schlumberger worldwide, I carried out research and developed the Schlumberger Service Tool Interchangeability Modular system, and the result of these research and its findings was delivered to Schlumberger (SLB) Global operations management team at my General Field Engineers (GFE) control Seminar at SLB HeadQuarters in Paris, France. As against having different types of Lower Completions Gravel Pack or Frac pack tools, which are a lot in number, and can cost in excess of $50M, principally used for different Lower applications. Two to four of the standard tools are required to form the base point conversion kits which I designed, for the different tools are what was needed to convert the base tools to the exact tool that is required for the application that it will be used for. As soon as this project received approval from the SLB management team, SLB engineering and manufacturing was in full gear into the manufacturing of the conversion kits for the different SLB tools. On these premises, I was tasked with the responsibility of carrying out a series of training sessions within the Schlumberger organization in order to get personnel up to speed with these innovations. The amount of money Schlumberger locations practicing these techniques needed on a yearly basis reduced significantly to less than 10% of their earlier requirement.
Another project I single handedly championed is the set up and establishment of Litewell Completions Services Limited.
Set up from Scratch with very minimal financials but lots of support from various people I had earlier worked with during the course of my professional career. I oversaw the company transforming into becoming, not only a quality based company that was enjoying a lot of trust from its various clients, also, to being the only indigenous company in Nigeria that can be termed as a ‘One Stop Company’, due to its ability to offer all the completions solutions and services, End to End, in-house. The advantage of these to the client is that the client is able to reduce the number of service contractors they have to interact with during the course of a project. Another benefit to the client is that lump sum bulk discount can be negotiated hereby helping them reduce the overall project cost, recording lots of Savings.
On the part of Litewell, overall profit had increased due to increase in overall turnover, due to the number of services being rendered at a time
You have worked on different oil and gas projects with different teams in Nigeria and overseas, did your experience working in Africa first help you in any way when you started working on oil and gas projects abroad?
Starting my professional engineering career in Nigeria, Africa, especially in a company like Schlumberger, helped me a great deal to navigate the work environment during my period overseas. We all know with the prevalent joblessness and unemployment rate that has been going on in Nigeria for a long time, energizes the privileged few that are able to secure a job, especially in a company like Schlumberger Nigeria. Hired personnel do everything within their powers to guard it jealously by working smart and hard in order to convince its management that they belong there and that their employment was not done in error. Schlumberger Nigeria has a reputation of employing less than 1% of the total applicant at any point of its recruiting circle, and also has a reputation of aggressively training its newly employed.
The training I received over the course of my career, the smart and the hard way of working that is synonymous with most Nigerians that started their careers in Nigeria was beneficial to me working abroad because at every point in time, irrespective of the country I was located, I was also amongst the high flyers.
Politically, starting your career in your country, gives you some certain advantages, such as the opportunity of learning everything you need to know about your chosen career under a non-violent, non-hostile environment. So once you are overseas, you only need to keep topping up on what you already know as against learning a certain skill from scratch. May God help you if the people at that location are not too receptive to people like you with probably a different religion, skin color etc.
You pioneered Litewell Completions Services Limited; kindly share with us, first what Litewell is all about, your experience as a start-up, short-term and long-term goals of Litewell.
Litewell Completions Services Limited is a 100% indigenously owned company with operational offices in Port Harcourt and Warri. We offer an array of services as a company and some services in partnership with some other companies such as Schlumberger, Welldata etc. We are an official local content partner with several reputable organizations including Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, Halliburton and Weatherford; we have performed several successful high profile jobs under these partnerships. We are proud to say that this partnership has been on a work-share basis which enables us to demonstrate the Litewell in-house capacity and not rely solely on the technical partner – in line with the local content requirements. We have fully trained management and engineering staff with vast oil and gas experience, both locally and internationally. Litewell offers a complete array of Well Completion Services, OCTG (Both large and small diameter) Supplies, Marine, Drilling and Upper & Lower Completions Services
· Sale and Installation of various types and sizes of Screens for Stand Alone Screens (SAS) applications in both vertical and horizontal well sections.
·ICD/AICD Modelling, Design and Installation.
·Multizone, Vertical, Deviated and Horizontal Drainages.
·Down Hole Pumping Services
·Gravel Pack and Frac Pack equipment sale and installation – seal bore packer, seal subs etc Upper Completions Services
·Sale of Production Tubing accessories such as Nipples, Blast Joints, Hydro-Trip subs, Couplings, Safety Valves, Sliding Sleeves, Telescopic joints, Seal Units etc
·Upper Completions Running Services – Single and Dual Completions
·Thru Tubing Intervention Services Drilling Services OCTG Supplies Services
· Sale of different grades of both small and Large Diameter Tubing and casing .Chemicals, Wireline Services, Coiled Tubing Services, Slickline Services, Well Test Services (Including EPF for Extended Well Test), Drill Bits, Fishing operations, Whipstock Installations, Hydraulic Work-Over Unit (Snubbing Unit) solutions and Brokerage Services in sourcing fit for purpose drilling rigs for contracting or outright purchase.
How has technology and innovation contributed in cost control, contract management and in efficient Well delivery process? Share your experience in relation to Pre- and Post-COVID times.
I believe the Oil and Gas industry is arguably one of the sectors in which the biggest impact of Covid-19 was felt, mostly positively, but to a little extent negatively. The lockdown that was observed all over the world including Nigeria initially made some people lose their jobs as a result of reduction in oil and gas drilling and completions activity, some of these jobs later came back Post COVID. In the positive light, Pre-COVID times ensured the use of technology was deployed to ensure, though everyone observed the lock down, work did not stop especially in the areas of meetings to draw up daily strategies and projections for the company, also meetings with clients and customers to discuss projects at hand etc. The use of TEAM, ZOOM etc, platforms immediately took the center stage, and still remains till this day. Pre-COVID was the proof to everyone in the Oil and Gas industry that only essential personnel are required to be at work at certain times. Meetings can be held daily but only when it is absolutely critical should it be physical. A lot of companies including Litewell have been able to record a lot of savings as a result of reduced financial resources required to run operations. A reduced cost of doing business trend has continued in the Post COVID times
What would you term the biggest drawback of geoscientists in Africa, if any?
They include lack of access to formal and Onsite & On the job Training and Technology; lack of support from the Private and the Public (Government) support to Research and development. Others are over dependence on imported technology and lack of Government policy and laws to encourage the private sector especially the Entrepreneurs.
What would you say is the future of Petroleum Engineering and Deep Water Well Construction and Completions? How prepared are you for this future vis – a viz the lessons the CoronaVirus Pandemic has taught business leaders across sectors?
I am not one of those that believe fossil fuel will soon be a thing of the past with the introduction of other sources and means of generating energy such as Solar, Electricity etc. These alternate means are greener and cleaner in nature, no doubt, but the amount of energy generated compared to that of Hydrocarbon is no match. What do I see?
In the next few years, I see an improvement and advancement in the mode and manner in which fossil fuel or hydrocarbon is being extracted in a much safer, cost effective manner with minimal or zero impact to the environment.
In the next few years, I see an improvement in the mode and manner hydrocarbon is being refined with minimal or zero carbon or carbon monoxide emission to the environment, contributing next to zero pollutant to the air that we breathe.
In the next few years, I see the automobile, train, marine and aviation industries manufacturing equipment with engines with 100% engine efficiency with total combustion, able to break down and burn its fuel with next to zero carbon or carbon monoxide emission to the atmosphere.
Worthy of note is, Fossil fuel has over 600 other components it can be broken down to, that is useful to man in his day to day living
Based on my above submission, I see the search for hydrocarbons increasing with time and a corresponding increase in Land, Swamp, offshore and Deepwater activities, especially the Deepwater drilling and completion activity due to the high volume of Hydrocarbons reserve that is commonly associated with that environment.
In terms of Preparation, Litewell is currently doing its best to provide adequate training and compensation for its staff at every stage of their career as a way of adequately motivating them to be at their best at every point in time. Litewell is also working in partnership with some Universities in Nigeria, who recommend upwardly mobile and intelligent undergraduate students to Litewell, who are monitored until they complete their undergraduate education studies. They are tested and employed when they meet all the stipulated requirements outlined by the company. This ensures the future of both our company and our industry is in safe hands.
I feel the number one lesson every industry leader has gained as result of the COVID-19 outbreak, is the need for every company to be dynamic and pragmatic in its approach and running of its day to day business. Any company that is not constantly improving on its product and services as a result of its in-house research and development may probably not survive the constantly changing fast trends or survive if there is another such outbreak as experienced during the COVID-19 out-break.
The energy transition debate: African leaders want more time to enable Africa industrialize 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.
I believe African leaders have all the time they need to play catchup, I am not advocating for African countries to continue crawling and become complacent as they have always done while the rest of the word leaves us behind, definitely not. I believe it is wise for African countries and its leaders to quickly catch up and be at the same level with the rest of the world and grow alongside them.
But as enumerated in my earlier submission, it is my personal opinion that it will take the world a very long time or possibly, impossible to fully eradicate from the use of fossil fuel and switch to the cleaner or greener form of energy. To buttress my point, I will like to use the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine & (NATO) as an example. A lot of people felt this will be a great opportunity for the rest of Europe that depends so much on Russia Gas to dump the use of these gas and accelerate their switch to the much cleaner and greener form of energy. You will agree with me that this is not so, in fact, it is even the Russians that have placed a restriction on the rest of Europe in the mode and manner in which Russian gas would be sold to the rest of Europe. The best we will see is the Cleaner or greener form of this energy being used side by side with fossil fuel. Finally, I believe Hydrocarbon or fossil fuel will still be relevant to my generation as a source of energy generation, and I believe I still have over 40 years to live on this earth.
Like in many other science professions, there is a dearth of skilled manpower, petroleum engineers, project engineers, geoscientist and geophysicists in Deep Water, Cost Completions Engineering, especially in Africa. How do think this can be mitigated?
I believe a lot still needs to be done in the area of education by the Federal, State, and Local Governments. The Private sector also has a part to play in the areas of education too. From the basic education a child goes through, Nursery, Primary and Secondary schools that enables them improve and increase on their intelligent Quotients (IQ) to the education or training received at our various higher institutions that prepares them for the industry. There must be a change in the approach on the mode and manner in which a person is taught and trained with more emphasis on practical as against theory.
Also the Federal Government needs to find a way to discourage Brain Drain syndrome, that is, the right motivation have to be implemented to discourage home grown professionals who have distinguished themselves in their chosen careers from leaving the country, but encourage Brain Gain syndrome, that is, encouraging Nigerians in particular living abroad who have been able to distinguish themselves in their areas of profession or careers to come back home and help develop the industry and economy in general. These established professionals can help complement the University trainings through on-the-job trainings and sharing experiences gathered over the years.
How do you relax, when you are not thinking of any SPUD MUD, GEL, KCL or Polymer or Mega Drill projects?
I read a lot, hard copy books and virtual books because I believe learning is a continuum, we must never stop learning, in fact it’s important to know when to unlearn old techniques, re-learn much better ways of doing things in order not to be left behind in the scheme of things.
I watch a lot of movies and listen to good music because I am a believer in creativity.
I also try my best as an individual and as a corporate body to be involved in philanthropic activities. I believe it is important to share with the needy out of the abundance the Good Lord has provided to us.