A quantum leap

Dr Abdullah Abri, Technical Lead, Petroleum Development Oman shares his insights on the oil major’s R&D and Innovation vision. Mayank Singh reports


What technical initiatives are PDO currently working on?

I am the Technical Lead for In-Country Value at PDO. It’s a new position that has been created to look after technical business development and sustainability. Prior to this, I was handling field development projects on the technical side. PDO has been supporting Oman for years and it has been successful in providing petrodollars to the government to drive strong socio-economic development across the country. We really feel proud to serve Oman. We believe that the current economic conditions provide an opportunity to be more efficient and less complacent and to strive for sustainability. PDO is currently repositioning itself as knowledge corporate concerning oil and gas and energy.  My role is to study the technical ICV in the country, craft an integrated protocol for energy integration across the country, promote local manufacturers in the country with technical expertise, drive sustainability, and integrate with other governmental and private stakeholders in the country.

We have recently published the Research and Development and Innovation Strategy 2040 for PDO that focuses on promoting the areas of competitive advantage, driving growth and economic diversification. For us to walk the talk in this area, we have started signing a number of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs). Last year, we signed around 40 MoUs pledging commitment and support to a range of organizations and causes, including those with local universities and Innovation Park Muscat. There will be a few more in 2017 which will complement the strategy and enable various efforts that are happening in the wider country.

There are also some side initiatives like Baader, which comes from the Arabic word for initiate.  Baader is a volunteering project for staff to give up their time and expertise free of charge to help Omani society. It has four pillars – one, to exchange best practices with ministries and the government; second, to support capability and capacity building of local SMEs; third, to support the research and education institutions in Oman to bridge the gap between industry and academia. This support can be financial or technical to bring about sustainability and drive positive change. We are also looking at commercialising some research centers and laboratories of local tertiary institutions. The fourth pillar is to support NGOs and showcase PDO’s commitment to sustainability. The volunteering programme is now up and running and has been recently expanded with a call to 150 staff to join the project and help the community and a decision to extend the leel of support to 17 NGOs, government and educational institutions, voluntary groups, professional bodies and small businesses. We are now putting in place a detailed roadmap on how we are going to walk the talk.

In what ways is the downturn in oil prices being converted into an opportunity?

The low oil price environment provides a chance to act more efficiently, reaffirm our business direction, evaluate business performance, , think more sustainably, commercially and innovatively  and build a tougher, more resilient organisation  so that we stay the course on our key objectives. Going back to the R&D and innovation vision, we want to establish PDO as a technology and innovation centre in the Middle East by 2040 in the areas where it has a competitive advantage. Compared to the other players in the oil and  gas space in the region, PDO is three or four generations ahead in areas like solar, the complexity of our projects, Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) and so on. So there is a lot that we can do in R&D and that is our aim.   Our mission is to create a sustainable and innovative ecosystem.

PDO participated in the Oman Energy Forum in 2015 and there were a number of recommendations which the Company has addressed. In October 2016, there was another forum here in Muscat, and we are currently reviewing the final recommendations, with the plan for PDO to pioneer some of these recommended actions by October 2017.

We will achieve sustainability and innovation in the ecosystem by building a strong research and innovation base and by bridging the gap between industry and academia as this was the prime recommendation of the Oman Energy Forum 2015. This will bring about a strong collaboration between science and industry to develop skilled human capital.  This will create job opportunities and establish international co-operation frameworks so that we can transfer more technological advancements and know-how to Omani people and businesses.

Are these initiatives in line with PDO values and principles?

Everything that we do complies with our values and principles. The first one is PDO’s vision and that is to be renowned and respected for the excellence of our people and the value we create for Oman and all our stakeholders. In line with the government’s aspirations, and more recently the Tanfeedh programme, the effort is to stimulate growth in the non-oil and gas industry. The oil and gas sector sits in a unique place to drive innovation and rebuild industrially and reposition the Omani economy, because of it’s spend and maturity. This is in line with the Science, Technology and Innovation review that was done by the United Nations for Oman in 2015 and the 50-year Oman Energy Masterplan which was the main outcome of the Oman Energy Forum 2015. This also conforms to the ICV Blueprint strategy for the oil and gas industry that was published in 2013. In a nutshell, we are on the same page as the government.

Since the 1990s, PDO has been setting the stage to become a technological hub in Oman, and to support that aim, PDO has enhanced the skill of its executives through technical cross-postings with Shell and short assignments across the world.  These placements cover a whole range of areas, such as petroleum engineering, human resources, process design, standards, and management and so on.

The results are there for everyone to see with PDO becoming a technical pioneer in so many areas.  We carried out the first EOR steam trial, the first polymer trials and much more. PDO has been a good corporate citizen by offering student college and university scholarships for the community in the concession areas, in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education. PDO has helped Sultan Qaboos University to establish its research capabilities by donating millions of dollars to the university so that it can become a more self-sustaining organisation.

Can you take us through PDO’s main innovation and technical achievements since the 1990s?

PDO is a world leader in enhanced oil recovery and this is expected to account for a third of its production by 2023. In 2015, with its partner GlassPoint Solar, PDO unveiled plans for the largest solar energy plant in the world in terms of peak production. Miraah (meaning mirror in Arabic) at Amal in southern Oman will harness the sun’s rays to produce steam for thermal EOR and save 5.6 trillion British Thermal Units of natural gas each year.

Technology also underpins PDOs approach to sustainable production at its multi award-winning Nimr Reeds Bed project, also in southern Oman, where PDO and its partner Bauer Nimr LLC are treating thousands of barrels of produced water a day at a fraction of the cost and energy intensity of deep water disposal by using reeds to naturally absorb oil and other contaminants.

For PDO, technology is a key enabler to our business activities and sustainability. We strive to use the latest technology, provided it’s viable and commercial, to discover new reservoirs, improve recovery from unconventional fields, reduce energy consumption and increase collaboration.

What are the cornerstones of the R&D strategy and the roadmap for achieving these goals?

The R&D strategy focuses on growth, sustainability, and creating opportunities and jobs for Omanis. The first milestone is that we want to take on our own challenges and develop solutions. We want to develop talent and a critical mass of entrepreneurs. In pursuance of this goal, we have recently signed an MoU with the Public Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (Riyada) and another one with the Ministry of Education.  PDO will be sponsoring a programme with these two institutions to create a renewable energy competition for Omani business and schools with the aim of fostering a positive environmental culture across the country.

This may later lead to PDO incubating some of these projects. We want to disseminate some of the huge bank of technical expertise and knowledge we have built - some of which is currently being imported from outside our borders. The idea is to stimulate knowledge, processes and standards creating a self-sustaining economy.  We will commercialize the spin-offs and develop local intellectual property. The last pillar of the strategy is to create knowledge and promote excellence in the areas of competitive advantage like EOR, improved oil recovery (IOR), water management and renewables.

This is strategy which will take us to 2040 and so we have broken it into sub-strategies. The first one of these will be a short-term running to 2019; the mid-term strategy covers 2020 to 2029 and the long-term strategy will cover the remaining period from 2030 to 2040. The short-term strategy focuses on strengthening technical, financial and sustainability soundness of local manufacturers and innovation centers. The mid-term plan is focused on creating a technology and innovation centre and the long-term plan is to reposition PDO as knowledge corporate.

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