Runa Maidepa: a Papuan engineer in Trinidad and Tobago

Date: 21 August 2017
It would seem that the future is set for Reformator Usom Nathaniel Anthonius Maidepa, or Runa to his colleagues. Following a three-month practical work as geologist for his theses at PT. Freeport Indonesia, it was only natural that Runa would follow it up with a career at the mining company after graduating from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta in 2001. 

“The superintendent at the company really wanted me to join them as there weren’t any Papuan geologists (in Freeport) at the time,” the 44-year-old said during a recent interview.

A chance phone call from a university colleague and BP employee proved to be the turning point of Runa’s life as it gave him a chance to join a company that was about to establish operations in his father’s childhood home – Teluk Bintuni – and later brought him to work half way around the world in Trinidad and Tobago in the Carribeans.

“My father came from Idoor District in Teluk Bintuni, and many of my uncles and cousins still live in Babo. So I felt I would make them proud if I worked in Teluk Bintuni,” he said, adding that he also felt a responsibility to help other Papuans in Teluk Bintuni develop their careers.

“I also wanted to avoid the perception that I got a job because of my father’s position,” he said. Runa’s father was a geologist who had been Manokwari regent in 1984 to 1989, and then head of Papua province’s Mining and Energy Office.

At around the time of Runa’s graduation, BP was actively recruiting local Papuans to work and operate the Tangguh LNG plant that it was developing at the time. In 2002 Runa was one of eight Papuans in Batch 3 that was intensively trained as operator trainee under the Papuan Development Trainee Program.

The training plunged Runa and his colleagues straight into operations at BP’s West Java facility for two and a half years where he worked at Bravo Central Station (BCS) on the Java sea.

“After that I was offered a position as geologist in the Exploration team – I must have lasted less than two months before I asked to go back to operations,” Runa said laughing; adding that after working at the BCS he felt life in operations was more interesting.

Soon after BP sanctioned Tangguh LNG in 2004, Runa and the other trainees were sent to work at PT. Badak NGL in Bontang, East Kalimantan, to learn how to operate an LNG plant where they stayed for two and a half years. As Tangguh construction got well underway, Runa, as part of the Gas Production Facility (GPF) team, was sent to Tangguh in 2006 to help prepare for the arrival of the newly constructed VRB platform from Cilegon in West Java.

“My most memorable experience was the first time I flowed gas from the VRB-01 well. Ever since I worked at Offshore North West Java I dreamed that when Tangguh has its offshore facility, that I would be the first person to operate its wells,” Runa said.

This is a high-risk industry, needing people who are committed and highly skilled at their job. BP has high standards and how to meet that standard is to start by studying very hard.
Runa Maidepa
Tangguh came on-stream in 2009 and since then the husband of Lonna and father of Jeshaiah Ryoji Maidepa (8 years old) and Nathanael Anthonius Maidepa (6.5 years old) went from being a field technician, control room operator, well supervisor and finally double hatting as offshore installation manager and gas supply team leader responsible for the platforms and onshore receiving facility.

Runa became interested in the position at BP Trinidad and Tobago (BPTT) when it was mentioned to him by then Tangguh area operations manager and Runa’s mentor. His personal development plan already listed an interest in an international assignment, and with the Tangguh expansion project it felt the right time to undertake that assignment.

BP Trinidad and Tobago has operations in the marine areas off the east coast of Trinidad in the Caribbean, where it holds exploration and production licenses covering more than 904,000 acres. Through its heritage companies, Amoco Trinidad Oil Company and BP Amoco, BPTT has been operating since 1961, producing its first crude oil in 1972. It is now the country’s largest hydrocarbon producer, accounting for more than half of Trinidad and Tobago’s national production of oil and gas. Natural gas accounts for much of BPTT’s total hydrocarbon production.

Runa began his assignment at BPTT in July 2016 as operations team leader, overseeing teams ranging from eight to 10 people excluding contractors on different platforms, as well as at the Queen’s Park office in the Port of Spain.

“The most difficult thing to get used to was the language. People there speak English, but with a very strong accent usually called ‘Trini-English’. They also shorten many words, just like Papuans do, which makes it more difficult for outsiders,” he said. “I often jokingly tell them ‘you’re not using the proper English man’”. He didn’t feel any other difficulties since the Trinidadian and Tobagonian also eat rice.

Runa’s assignment will last until 2018, with a four week work rotation. “I like it when I have lots of work to do, time seemed to fly and it would be time to go home. If I have a lot of time on my hands, that’s when it gets tough, as it seemed so slow,” he said.

“My life has been full of blessings, I am blessed with my family, and blessed for meeting people who all play a part in my life, even from a young boy until now. You can always learn from the people you meet,” Runa said.

For the younger generation of Papuans he said that there was no other way to get ahead in life other than to learn and study.

Study, study, and study. There is no other way. Even now, in our jobs we still have trainings, there’s always something new to learn.”

And especially for people wishing to join the oil and gas industry, Runa has this to say: “this is a high-risk industry, needing people who are committed and highly skilled at their job. BP has high standards and how to meet that standard is to start by studying very hard.”

“If you get an opportunity, don’t waste it – because that opportunity is golden, it doesn’t come twice. So if from the beginning you are uncertain, it’s better not to take it and give the opportunity to others. This industry needs people who are willing to work hard and be professional.”