Professor 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 the global energy transistions and its implications on future investments in the Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. He also talked about the upcoming SPE 2022 Oloibiri Lecture Series and Energy Forum (OLEF) amongst other issues. Excerpts;
What is your short- and long-term outlook for the energy sector in Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa?
In the short term, Africa must maximize opportunities created by the availability of gas as a transition fuel at least in the next 30 years to create jobs and generate capital for the adoption of cleaner forms of energy. In the long-term, Africa’s energy should be purely renewables powered, driven by advancements in Hydrogen energy technology, solar, battery storage, and wind power.
How has SPE Nigeria Council been able to develop particularly strong expertise in the oil and gas sector?
As a body, SPE offers platforms for interactions between Professionals drawn across various sectors, such as Academia, Industry, regulators, and policymakers. These sorts of interactions have seen members developing their expertise, drawn from the learning across these sectors. Individual members of SPENC have contributed immensely to the oil and gas industry in Nigeria. The forerunners of PIA (Petroleum Industry Act), such as Late Dr. Emmanuel Egbogah came from SPE.
What key factors differentiate SPE from its industry peers?
The extent of dissemination of technical knowledge and availability of technical materials to SPE members makes us stand out in the delivery of our day-to-day tasks. The quality of the leadership and soft skills that are acquired through SPE volunteerism compare to no other not-for-profit institution in Nigeria.
In addition, SPE has a mission of capturing and disseminating technical knowledge for the benefit of all members. We have a variety of activities ranging from mentorship, catch them young, Internship, professional training, conferences and exhibitions, and policy advocacy.
To what extent has COVID-19 and the Nigeria Petroleum Industry Act caused a re-evaluation of investment priorities in the petroleum sector?
Every coin has two sides. COVID-19 had a positive side to it where the industry was able to run with a completely indigenous workforce and this has proved to us that indeed Nigeria has developed the capacity to run the industry. Now any investor could be confident that they could venture into business with locally available competencies without any need for expatriates which are relatively higher labor costs.
On the PIA, it has re-established the confidence the industry has in the government for a sustainable and competitive oil and gas industry and as we all know, investment interest deepens with confidence.
What has been SPE’s recommended approach to cutting costs, avoiding layoffs during the crisis, and reinventing the energy workforce?
SPE has not been an advocate of layoffs. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this, but it depends on the organization and the circumstances. SPE advocates for and promotes the efficiency of her members and believes cost-cutting in form of layoffs should be avoided unless it is seen by all parties as the only solution.
To what extent do you see opportunities for SPENC to support the power generation and utility sector in Nigeria?
As a professional organization and a stakeholder in the energy ecosystem, SPE will continue to push those ideas and opinions that drive best practices through our conferences, workshops, and other channels of presenting our positions. We recently hosted a summit in Port Harcourt, attended by Policy-makers, Power Sector companies, regulators, etc. where a roadmap was drafted and presented to the Government in respect of solving Nigeria’s power sector challenges.
One of the sub-themes at upcoming SPE OLEF 2022 is enabling a sustainable framework for the energy transition. Give us your perspective on where local content fits in?
As I mentioned earlier, the pandemic has shown that we have developed competence locally in terms of the workforce and vendors providing services. With proper legislative framework and implementation, homegrown innovations could foster effective energy transition at the lowest possible cost. This would strengthen our economy in the long run.
Following your response above, will this be only applicable to all oil and gas activities in the country?
No, it should not. We are today in a global village, however, what I am saying is that dependence on indigenous competence should be up to 80% in Nigeria, especially in key positions.
What are SPENC’s primary objectives for Oloibiri lecture series and energy forum 2022?
Our 2022 Council year is focused on energy transition. At OLEF 2022, we shall have diverse conversations on investments in the oil and gas industry to answer those salient questions in the mind of many especially when you consider the rhetoric on funding of fossil fuels post-COP 21.
What are the main priorities for SPE in Nigeria in terms of support to further accelerate the development of the country’s energy sector during the global energy transition push?
To accelerate the energy transition, we believe in homegrown pragmatic solutions suited to our environment and our nation-building. We need to evolve considering our environment. Even though Nigeria and Africa are not the major contributors to CO2 emission we still act as though we were and hence advocate for cleaner forms of energy, to support the transition. You can see this in the gains being recorded by the NLNG and the Federal Government declaring this decade as the Decade of Gas. SPE would always advocate best practices and not borrowed or copied practices to sound politically correct. We are apolitical but demonstrate strong commitments to our environment and sustainable development.
What have been the key phases of SPENC’s development in the last 10 years of its existence?
In the last 10 years, the significant increase in the number of our flagship events speaks volumes of the increasing relevance and impact of SPE. In 2012 we had just 2 flagship events, today we have 5 in addition to several activities done by SPE’s sections and chapters in Nigeria.
Using the SPE model, how can local service companies access training and improve their knowledge to be more competitive on a regional and global level?
Partnering with SPE is the way to go for any servicing company. SPE training courses are very affordable and yet of premium quality.
What is the capacity of NOCs in Nigeria and Africa to contribute to economic growth and nation-building?
Such models as having been defined by PIA have the potential of building a strong economy for Nigeria and Africa in a wider scope. This is what Saudi Arabia has achieved with Aramco and it is doable.