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PROF. OLALEKAN OLAFUYI, a professor of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Benin, is the 2021/22 Chairman of Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), Nigeria Council. In this interview with select journalists, he spoke about energy mix, the gale of divestment by the international oil companies and the rapidly changing energy landscape. He also talked about the upcoming SPE 2022 Nigeria Annual International Conference and Exhibition (NAICE) amongst other issues. Excerpts;
What has been SPE Nigeria’s main activities and achievements since its founding?
SPE Nigeria was founded in 1976 and since then, SPE has remained in the industry and policy advocacy space for the sustainability of the oil and gas business in Nigeria. Also, as a core part of its mission, SPE has been providing platforms for technical information collation, dissemination, and professional training. SPE Nigeria hosts several events at the sections and council level of which SPE NAICE is the foremost of these events. SPE NAICE and some of the other events of SPE Nigeria provide partners, sponsors, exhibitors, and conference participants, with wide-ranging opportunities to grow their business, and deepen, as well as expand their technical capabilities. They also provide access to the industry’s key decision-makers, latest industry innovations, best practices, state-of-the-art technologies, and investment and market opportunities.
What incentives do you offer members, and how do you see the workforce changing by 2050, given the increasing use of AI, automation, remote working, the energy transition, and changing HR demands?
SPE has always been technology-centric as the vision of SPE is centered around technical and professional competence development for its members. There are new introductions of technical subject workgroups at the SPE International level that tend to cover the new skill sets required for the present and the future; of which Artificial Intelligence, sustainability, Machine Learning, automation, and other areas of digital transformation are part of them. In 2019, SPE Nigeria went through an internal transformation and dwelt mostly on big data and artificial intelligence, this even formed the theme of that year’s conference, and is a clear demonstration that SPE looks ahead. In the recent past, most of our themes are centered around energy transition and the accompanying changing HR demands and I am confident that this awareness is very intense in our student chapters, sections, and at the Council level.
Can we credit SPE with any initiatives related to the energy transformation and transition including the need to build new skills in terms of ESG, i.e environmental and sustainability goals?
Yes, In 2020 at the peak of the pandemic, SPE approached other stakeholders of the energy industry in Nigeria and they participated in the stopgap event which was introduced since the NAICE was cancelled. The event was named Nigeria Energy Industry Transformation Summit. I want to believe that the outcome of the conversations from that event set the tone for what we are witnessing across the oil and gas ecosystem today concerning ESG and sustainability.
With the Nigeria Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) now materialized, what is your vision for how the industry will change?
PIA is a monumental leap from where the industry was coming from. As a policy advocacy professional organization, SPE envisions a Nigeria Energy industry functioning at the best practices. However, as we progress, some loose areas that would affect the industry adversely would be brought to the spotlight through our major channels which are our workshops, symposiums, and conference panel discussions.
What will the exploration landscape look like in Nigeria, with the gale of divestment by the international oil companies (IOCs)?
The landscape could simply be said to be promising because indigenous players, who already have developed capacity will be taking over assets from multinational operators. I expect to see more job openings across the different levels of professions needed in the oil and gas industry. There would also be continued reskilling and upskilling of industry professionals to match the evolving exploration landscape.
How do you see the role of independent petroleum producers (IPPs) developing in this rapidly changing energy landscape?
Like I said, most of the IPPs have developed capacities and I can make bold to say that many of the heads of the IPPs are either SPE members or have benefited in one way or the other from SPE human capacity development, and so they would fill in the technical and leadership gaps created. Also, much will be expected from the IPPs to keep the industry thriving as they are taking over from IOCs in the near future.
What informed the theme of NAICE 2022 and are their challenges with transitioning to a more sustainable energy future?
The need to approach energy transition in Africa with specificity was the main reason. The world all over is faced with energy challenges amidst the call for decarbonization but Africa has barely attained energy efficiency, not to talk about sustainability.
Renewable is just one of the energy mix. How will renewable energy affect the oil and gas industry?
They will complement each other but in the nearest future, hydrocarbons will dominate the energy mix and for most African countries, the funding for renewables will come mostly from the responsible development of oil and gas resources.
What are the biggest obstacles to a green energy transition in Africa?
For a start, the definition of “green energy” is still evolving and we can see that from the recent pronouncements in Europe on natural gas following the ongoing geopolitical unrests. Africa’s energy poverty would have to be addressed by responsibly developing and utilizing Africa’s abundant natural resource – Fossil fuels. This may appear to be the biggest obstacle as it is the major source of energy supply and yet barely matured at its current level of operation and utilization in Africa.
How prepared is SPE Nigeria towards the coming NAICE 2022? What will the main features be?
We are well prepared. I want to point it clearly that the NAICE project starts early in October of the previous year and we have very experienced and committed SPE volunteers who work tirelessly in their various sub-committees for over 9 months. They are the reason NAICE is always top-notch, far-reaching, and heavily impactful
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