Abraham Faga runs a company that serves as well design, drilling operations and well completions department for a host of homegrown Nigerian E&P firms. He is in a niche market. He brings to it a wealth of experience gained largely from his background working in some of the world’s most remote places for Schlumberger (the largest oilfield service firm on the planet) and the psychology of a structured E&P company which he learned in his 12 years working for Shell, the Anglo Dutch major who operates the largest hydrocarbon asset portfolio in Nigeria.
Oil majors working in Africa have the capacity to run their own drilling operations; from well design to completion.
For minors, especially indigenous companies who are mushrooming in Nigeria, the logistics can be so challenging they’d do better to outsource it.
“The market had always been there for drilling well interventions and integrated project management as far back as 2002, when I joined Schlumberger”, Faga says. Schlumberger was supplying IPM services to clients from the Sahara to Siberia, places so difficult to access and where only small companies with few brainy overheads could thrive. Schlumberger deploys a number of small IPM units to those kinds of places, with mandates to run themselves as full companies. It is something like intrapreneuring.
Around 2002, when Faga joined Schlumberger from Shell, a Schlumberger IPM unit was already working in Nigeria for Amni Petroleum, a local operator.
But the big chance for this kind of services came with the marginal field exercise. In 2003, Nigeria auctioned 24 undeveloped discoveries, located in oil mining leases operated by majors who had found those discoveries too small and insignificant to develop.
So almost suddenly, 24 putative Nigerian operators had ownership of 24 fields that were considered low hanging fruits. It seemed like all any of them needed to do, having established the subsurface parameters, was to re-enter the discovery or any other well on the field with a certified hydrocarbon pool, and bring it to completion. That is the job that people like Faga, and his company, CieQual Limited have cornered.
He started by co-founding Wellmanned Company Limited with Uwem Udoh, another smart Nigerian petroleum engineer with the same Shell/Schlumberger background. It was an enviable combination. But the two partners soon parted ways and Faga founded CieQual Limited, which inherited the consulting job that Wellmanned won from Afren Energy Services Limited. His job designation in Afren today is Deputy Project Drilling Manager, even though he is on retainership, as a consultant.
CieQual Limited equally consults for Century Energy Holdings, which has bought into the Atala Marginal Field, held by Bayelsa Oil Company. He is clearly excited by the successful re completion of some wells on Shebah Oil and Gas operated Ukpokiti field. “Shebah increased production in Ukpokiti after our work-over by 500% from 400barrels to over 2000barrels+. It was an existing well. The solution was to run electric submersible which is uncommon in Nigeria and it worked”. CieQual was also instrumental in the successful re-entry of the Assaramatoru-1, the only well on the field of the same name, operated by Prime Energy.
Over drinks at the Four Points Sheraton, just down the road from his office in Victoria Island in Lagos, Faga preferred to talk generally about the nature of IPM services, his own career breaks and the oft stated comparisons between E&P technical personnel and their oil service (contractor) counterparts.
“When you work as a drilling engineer in an E&P company, you focus on your job as a driller. There are logistics, legal, finance, backing you. Just focus on delivering the well. When you work for a service company, particularly for IPM and you are assigned a project; you are responsible for the well design, securing the contract, recruiting your staff, profit and loss. In short, you’re a project manager who is an MD, involved in contract, logistics, procurement, legal services”.
When Faga worked in Algeria for Schlumberger, he was handed a project that Repsol, the Spanish operator, was working on. “I started going to meetings with Repsol, help them write tenders for contractors for the various aspects of the project. Responding to questions from contractors for the tender was part of my tasks. All of the due diligence fell on my lap. They had so many wells, you had to price them and tell them (Repsol) what each well would cost. You’d have to close out the project. That doesn’t happen in an E&P environment. You don’t have an equivalent to someone like that”.
Faga left Schlumberger in 2007. Those five years in the company were enough to give him a feel for what he wanted to do, but things had been shaping up, long before then.
Faga holds a PhD from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, and a Bachelor of Engineering degree, all in petroleum engineering from University of Benin. His Ph.D. thesis was on the use of neural network techniques for predicting grain-size distribution in clastic reservoirs for sand control systems design and evaluation
“Shell and Schlumberger give you different experiences”, he says. “In Shell, there’s a particular training you get that is top notch”.
CieQual does not have to hang around a company running integrated management in perpetuity.
“Afren started off using our kind of services and they are still using them till today. They are trying to grow their drilling services department which is essentially project management. As time goes on they’ll get to the point where they will have their own drillers. One of the things we do is to help train up the young graduates they employ before we move on, with time we help them develop capacity. It’s a long term project”, Faga explains. “The work that we have with them and similar to others is to guide them. The entire work they would have done to design the well programme, the list of services they need to contract, the list of companies that can supply each of these services, doing and analysing tenders and recommending vendors, that’s what we do for them. Once we get to that point, they can select.
“We manage services for them all- Afren, Shebah, Century, Prime. Afren have their own contracting department, but we still have to help them specify the scope of work when they are doing the contracts”.
It would be instructive to know if CieQual can work with the Nigerian government, now that NPDC (a state hydrocarbon company) is insisting on operating more assets. Faga answers this question with an example.
“We were supposed to do our very first Integrated work with Eland starting April 2011, but while I was planning the groundwork, NPDC stepped in and handed the work over to Atlantic, that’s an example of how it affected us, because now we would have been working already, now not only has it been slowed down, it’s no longer within our domain”.