Partners in the Caribbean: BP Trinidad and Tobago
Five centuries ago, when explorers were sailing the globe in a bid to discover new lands, many passed through Caribbean waters on their way to the Americas. Among them was the British navigator, Sir Walter Raleigh, who – it is said – came across a ‘lake’ of asphalt on the south-western corner of Trinidad in the 1590s. Pitch Lake, as it is known today, is one of the world’s largest natural deposits of this sticky, black substance – created by deep deposits of oil that are forced to the surface, where the lighter elements of the hydrocarbon evaporate to leave behind the heavy asphalt. Adventurers such as Raleigh used the substance to seal their ships’ hulls, before continuing a voyage.
These days, exploration in the region is not about ﬁnding new territory to mark on an atlas, but identifying further hydrocarbon deposits hinted at by the ones those early navigators ﬁrst came across. The expanse of dark viscous material that seeps up through the ground at Pitch Lake provides visual conﬁrmation of the rich natural resources that lie beneath these islands’ surface and off their coastlines.
Trinidad and Tobago enjoyed its ﬁrst oil boom after 1910, although the abundant natural gas in its reservoirs was only fully appreciated several decades later. From the late 1970s, gas began to dominate the country’s energy market, as it does today. The dual-island nation produced more than 700,000 barrels of oil equivalent in natural gas on a daily basis in 2011, of which BP’s Trinidad and Tobago business – BPTT – contributed around 55%. The company operates 13 offshore platforms, onshore oil and gas processing terminals and is the largest shareholder in the liqueﬁed natural gas (LNG) company, Atlantic, with its four liquefaction units, or trains.
“We are a business that has gone through tremendous growth, especially since the start-up of the ﬁrst LNG train in 1999,” says BPTT regional president, Norman Christie. “This country’s natural gas production grew from 1.3 billion to 4.3 billion cubic feet a day between 1999 and 2010, and our own production more than doubled in that period.”
Today, BPTT contributes around 12% of BP’s total oil and gas production globally. The challenge for the organisation now lies in maintaining that level, to provide consistent value for company and country. With natural gas projected to be the world’s fastest-growing fossil fuel by 2030 and demand for LNG increasing in countries such as China and India, the business is looking at how it will meet the long-term supply needs through its existing position, by maximising recovery from producing reservoirs.
“One of our goals is to really exploit our base production, in an efﬁcient way, using existing wells,” says Keith Bally, vice president of the resource team. “We are looking at bringing wells back online and recompleting different reservoir zones, those we haven’t produced from before, in what we call ‘secondary pay’. In this way, we are looking to reap rewards and the potential is huge.”
There are also potential new opportunities in existing ﬁelds where resource appraisal has been difﬁcult in the past, due to the limitations of technology to ‘visualise’ what lies beneath layers of shallow gas. To better understand the subsurface in those areas, a $200 million ocean bottom cable (OBC) seismic acquisition programme is underway, that will cover around 1,000 square kilometres (386 square miles).
“We have brought in new technology to generate improved subsurface images; we expect this to mean a lot for the region in terms of what we can unlock, with clearer seismic lines that eliminate shallow gas effects,” Bally continues. Five specialist OBC vessels spent six months in the Caribbean, completing part of phase one by April.
The vessels will continue their work in Trinidadian waters later this year. For Bally, obtaining new seismic data covering the majority of BPTT’s gas ﬁelds makes a strong statement: “We are demonstrating to our stakeholders that we are leaving no stone unturned. It’s also about creating excitement within the organisation that we are looking to the future and beyond the expiry of existing gas contracts.”
Seismic dataNew exploration offers long-term potential for the business, too. Following the signing of production sharing contracts in May for access to two ultra-deepwater blocks, 300 kilometres (185 miles) off the north-east coast of Trinidad, planning has begun to gather seismic data from the new acreage in 2013.
“Although one of our strategic tenets is to maximise value from our current position, these two new blocks also present hope of a much longer future for BPTT and, therefore, by extension, for the country as a whole,” says Christie. With the new exploration acreage at depths of around 2,000 metres (6,560 feet) – compared with operations to date in less than 500 metres of water (1,640 feet) – BPTT will turn to global company expertise to develop its capability in this new local frontier.
“Some of the work will be done in Houston, US, where we can take opportunities for our national staff to join divisional teams so they can learn and bring their knowledge back here,” says Christie. “This is a big deal, as we make the most of all BP has to offer and demonstrate why it is valuable to have an international oil and gas company in the country.”
While the business eyes these new prospects, it is also growing in employee numbers. A massive recruitment drive in 2011 resulted in 200 vacancies ﬁlled – making the company one third larger than it was less than two years ago. “We need a pipeline of national talent that we can keep replenished,” Christie continues, “so where appropriate, we offer staff the experience to work and learn elsewhere in BP, thereby developing talent that will eventually return to Trinidad.”
Engineering services manager Victor Singh believes that the opportunities on offer in the country also provide a varied career path for his professional discipline. “From a learning and development perspective in engineering, we have both onshore and offshore projects, working on an infrastructure that ranges from 40 years old to brand new. This includes risk-reduction activities, production enhancements for the future and adding value to the business through the installation of new technology.”
Alongside the development of long-term plans to sustain and grow current levels of production, BPTT has begun a programme of work to ensure the integrity of ageing infrastructure and continue to manage risk at operational sites. A series of upgrades is now complete on the 30-year-old Immortelle platform, including a new helideck, ﬁre protection system and a $60 million accommodation refurbishment.
“From a safety perspective, we have replaced the helideck, relocated the control room to the top deck for improved blast protection, enclosed stairways and installed a positive pressurisation heating, ventilation and air conditioning system,” explains Singh, who is among the engineering team to work closely with the safety and operational risk function to identify and design the modiﬁcations.
Modernisation programmeAs well as improving offshore facilities, modernisation has taken place in the onshore oil terminal at Galeota Point, which dates back 40 years in places. Here, three pipelines bring crude ashore, where it is stabilised and stored, until it is collected by tanker every 10 days. With its beach- side location and the ambient air saturated in sea salt, corrosion is an ongoing challenge for the site, as area operations manager, Lyndon Mohess explains: “We are constantly looking at new methods and technology to manage this – for example, through improved inspection techniques to provide more data on our pipework and through extensive maintenance activity to protect the facility.”
Oil spill emergency drills also take place on a regular basis here, as hydrocarbons are loaded onto tankers in a marine environment. Exercises see BPTT’s incident management team step into action in the company’s headquarters in Port of Spain, while teams on the ground test the response plan and deploy protective boom in the water to make sure that staff and contractors have experience in such tasks, should the need arise.
In addition to local drills at Galeota Point, major incident response exercises are held twice a year, involving more than 100 people, including the incident management team, its business support team, and a variety of national agencies and service contractors. In July, the scenario was a simulated gas release from a pipeline, affecting a local community, and a resulting ﬁre with multiple casualties. For lan Subero, director of crisis, continuity and emergency response in the region, such exercises identify valuable lessons. “Our focus is always on prevention: how do we ensure that mitigation measures are in place to manage our risks? But, in the event of an emergency, we need to be prepared, with support from external agencies.
“What we’ve learned is the need for continued integration with different response organisations and regulatory authorities. We have mutual arrangements with other upstream and downstream operators, so if there is an emergency, we can ask for support or offer it. Our aim is to look after people’s safety, the safety of those in the community where we operate and the protection of the environment.”
BPTT has also taken reasonable steps to protect its business in the face of a changing gas market. The gas that is produced and converted into a liqueﬁed form in Trinidad often travels a long way to reach its ﬁnal destination. In the recent past, more than two-thirds of US LNG requirements were supplied from these small islands. But the global gas market has seen signiﬁcant changes, according to Baaj Sirinath, BPTT’s manager for markets and midstream. “Our export business has altered dramatically from one focused on the US market, to a more global portfolio. After the tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan last year, the demand for gas there increased, so we see many more cargoes transported there and to other parts of Asia, as well as South America and Europe.
“As a company, we have used our commercial ﬂexibility and leveraged our worldwide presence to adapt to a changing market. Our global network of trading capability and shipping has proved invaluable in this respect.”
Even though long-term growth is forecast for the LNG market, it is likely that demand in certain geographies will continue to ﬂuctuate as countries develop their own gas resources, in particular, unconventional sources such as shale gas. According to BP’s Energy Outlook 2030, for example, the US will become a net exporter of natural gas, with its import dependency declining signiﬁcantly in future. But with established LNG production facilities – including one of the world’s largest trains in operation – there is optimism that Trinidad is a step ahead of other markets, thanks to the massive investment that has already been made. “The advantage here is that the country already has the LNG facilities – others have yet to develop them, which takes time and money. Meanwhile, the demand for gas is steadily increasing. What will be important for BPTT is continued ﬂexibility, the ability to respond and export cargoes where they are needed, according to seasonal demand,” says Sirinath.
For two islands that cover an area slightly smaller than the US state of Delaware, Trinidad and Tobago certainly play an active role in the regional and global economy, thanks to their hydrocarbon resources. And, as the nation marks 50 years of independence from Britain this year, it is time to reﬂect on both its history and future. For BPTT, it’s an opportunity to take stock of its distinct local identity, while recognising that operating in the Caribbean is not just about business.
“Our aspiration is to actively participate in the country’s development and to have a positive impact on every citizen and employee,” Christie concludes. “That means a lot more than simply doing business well; it’s about making a connection on a personal level, too. Things like supporting our Olympic and Paralympic teams until 2016, or encouraging enterprise development in communities where we operate, we believe that brings mutual beneﬁt for the company and nation.”
The Mayaro Initiative for Private Enterprise Development – in numbersBPTT plays a significant role in supporting small business growth in Trinidad and Tobago. In 2002, it provided seed-funding for the Mayaro Initiative for Private Enterprise Development (MIPED). The number below give an idea of how successful the initiative has become.