In this interview with journalists Chairman, Society of Petroleum Engineers, Nigerian Council, Olatunji Akinwunmi talks about the forth coming 2021 edition of Oloibiri Lecture Series & Energy Forum (OLEF) amongst other industry issues. Yemisi Izuora was there for Oriental News Nigeria
After suspension of the 2020 edition due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How does it feel to have Oloibiri Lecture Series & Energy Forum (OLEF) back?
It is true that last year the OLEF was cancelled at the last minute due to the escalation of the pandemic. We had planned a physical event to hold mid-March 2020, but the developments at that time forced us to cancel. As you know, many other events scheduled at that time were also cancelled. I am very happy that we are now able to hold the OLEF albeit in a hybrid format, due to the requirements of the COVID-19 protocols, especially with respect to large gatherings. Accordingly, we will welcome few people at the site while most delegates and participants will have to join online.
What informed the theme of this year’s edition?
Since last year we have been confronted within situation of pandemic which also led to lockdowns in several countries and resultant downturn in commercial and industrial activities leading to an unprecedented drop in demand for our commodities. At the beginning of this year, we also witnessed the consummation of the biggest asset transfer for several years in Nigeria- talking about the transfer of OML 17 assets to TNOG Oil & Gas company. So we thought about operational excellence in the current context giving us the ability to be low-cost producers and we also thought about portfolio optimization in the sense of assets divestment and transfer of mature assets from the established players to new comers. We believe that the exchanges that would be facilitated during our upcoming OLEF workshop would be beneficial to the industry in Nigeria.
Between technology and human resources, which plays a greater role in operational excellence and portfolio optimization in oil and gas industry?
I believe that at the foundation of every progress in any sphere of life is the human being – his courage, and his hunger for continuous progress. Our resilience, our capacity for adaptation and innovation are all what combine to enable progress, therefore any and every technological advancement is a product of man’s (or woman’s) ingenuity.
Every sector had peculiar challenges as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. What peculiar challenges did the oil and gas industry face?
No one imagined at the beginning of last year that we could have had a lockdown of the major economies of the world. When movements are curtailed – limitation of flights, maritime activity and even passenger vehicular movements led to low demand of our products and of course the impact is depressed commodity prices which in turn led to an output cut. So the impact on the oil and gas industry was and continues to be a major one.
Given these challenges in the Covid-19 pandemic era, should the industry focus more on existing assets or go all out for greenfield projects?
I believe the focus should be on efficiency, the industry should strive to be efficient both in terms of cost and by way of reduction of emissions in all our activities: exploring for new oil and gas fields, as well as developing and producing both existing and new fields. Having said this, the industry in Nigeria is in dire need of new projects which hopefully the passage of the PIB should enable.
Are we going to see an extinction of some of your industry players soon?
I certainly hope not, this is one of the reasons why SPE puts a lot of attention and focus on helping to make our industry stronger by technical inputs and facilitating exchange of ideas for best practices in order to ensure the survival of our industry.
What can government do to help the industry in the midst of these challenges?
I think one clear and obvious message that the industry cannot be tired of passing at this time is to encourage the Federal Government to pass a PIB that would enable growth of the petroleum industry in Nigeria while taking into account the global realities of the energy transition.
Do you still see a future for fossil fuels?
Oh certainly, there is a future for fossil fuels. With the abundance of the resources we have in Nigeria, there is very good opportunity with the right enabling policies, for us to be able to efficiently develop and produce low-cost high-quality crude oil. As for gas which is a transition fuel, we have a wonderful opportunity to develop and produce this abundant energy resource in our country.
As a professional association, how is SPE bracing up for a future without vibrant fossil fuels economy?
As I said earlier, fossil fuels still have a future in contributing to the energy mix of an ever-increasing demand, Nigeria as a gas province still has much to offer. And if we can reduce our cost of oil production and improve overall efficiency, the industry still has many years of active operation ahead of it.
What would be your overall assessment of Nigeria’s over 60 Years of Oil history?
Without a doubt, it has been a checkered history, but the future is indeed bright if we take advantage of digital transformation, efficiency of our operations and relentless pursuit of cost optimization across our industry.