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Petroleum As An Energy Source Will Continue To Be Relevant In Centuries To Come – Dr Akintola

Dr Sarah Abidemi Akintola is of the department of Petroleum Engineering, faculty of technology, University of Ibadan. She holds a bachelor’s and a PhD in Petroleum Engineering from University of Port Harcourt and University of Ibadan respectively.

Effective oil production management appears impossible without regular introduction of new technologies which have kept researchers on their toes. Her research works include; Conservation of the Environment in Oil Producing Areas of Nigeria, Behavior of Drilling Fluids Treated with Starch and Potash under cyclic Temperature and Pressure, Performance of Water-Based Drilling Fluids Treated with selected Modified Maize ​​​and Cassava Starches under High Pressure and Temperature among others.

Dr Akintola is a registered engineer and member of several professional bodies among which are Nigerian Society of Engineers, Society of Petroleum Engineers, Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria etc

Engineers’ Forum takes a look at the activities in the Petroleum sector globally, its production technicalities and how it affects the nation.

The Petroleum sector was one of the sectors greatly hit by Covid-19 pandemic. Oil production slumped to zero at some point. Where you surprised about that incident?

 I was not surprised due to a couple of reasons: It was not only a global pandemic but it took the global humanity by shock and surprise. It was not something like a cyclical shock that could have been predicted and planned for. The simple reason why oil production and processing slumped to zero was because the movement/mobility of humans was abruptly halted/stopped. Without movement of humans, machines or equipment such as drilling equipment, production equipment, refining equipment, distribution equipment, etc, could not be operated due to the restriction of human indoors. Life was almost grinding to a halt because energy supply was running out. I want to believe that some lessons have been learned and I don’t see a similar slump happening again even if a higher but similar pandemic strikes again in the nearest future.

One of the greatest threats to hydrocarbon production is the alternative energy. Currently, there is energy transition to renewables. To what extent does it affect the concept and the future of Petroleum production?

As you all know or may be aware, hydrocarbon is a non-renewable (wasting fossil fuel) energy source. Due to its non-renewable nature, it is necessary to start planning towards alternatives and possibly renewable sources so that humans do not go into extinction. Just for your information, hydrocarbon is a cleaner energy source when compared to coal and till today there are countries (like South Africa and China) who still rely so much on coal for their energy generation. Apart from its wasting nature, another reason for the possible future shift from it, is the search for cleaner fuel and need for reduction in carbon emission. Petroleum production as an energy source, will definitely continue to be relevant in centuries to come and research will continue in areas of treatment to make it cleaner, better, cheaper and healthier than what it is today.

The common complaint in the production of petroleum is cost which is generally considered high in Nigeria. Is your department working to reduce operating expenses by optimizing downhole equipment operating parameters, increasing its trouble-free operation intervals, and well service life between repairs?

Optimisation to improve or enhance the performances of downhole equipment, surface equipment and chemicals are amongst the many reasons for existence and the trainings that we give. We have also discovered that there are what I can best describe as externalities (because they are beyond my department) and they impact negatively on the overall cost of operations in Nigeria. They include but are not limited to insecurity, pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft, multiple taxes, delays while waiting for approvals to move to locations, occasional disruptions by communities and delay in churning out reform policies, just like what is being experienced with the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

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One of your research works was on Conservation of the Environment in Oil Producing Areas of Nigeria. Sometimes people from the region see oil as a curse rather than a blessing because of environmental degradation occasioned by oil spill. Can’t modern technique in Petroleum extraction address the many environmental issues associated with production?

Yea I have carried out some research works on Conservation of the Environment in Oil Producing Areas of Nigeria and even though I don’t have the current statistics but I can confidently tell you that Environment in Oil Producing Areas of Nigeria are amongst the most polluted and abused environments in the world today. When it comes to apportionment of blames, it will be fair to say, the government, the operating companies and the communities have their respective blames (can’t give you percentages now). Though occasional spills could be experienced during production, blowouts (which are not very common due to improvement well pressure managements) most of the environmental degradations occur after the crude oil has successfully left the well or Christmas tree. The degradations occur when the crude oil is being conveyed to the flow stations, refineries or export terminals. While pipeline integrity issues and personnel errors may not be ruled out, activities of pipeline vandals and crude oil thieves have been discovered to be a major culprit too.

When developing an oilfield, the goal is not only to find a petroleum accumulation and engineer the reservoir but to find a way to produce as much petroleum as possible with minimum operating expenses. Do you think the Nigerian Government search for oil in the Chad and Benue trough in the last decades is taking this into consideration?

Every organized country is supposed to have the complete or near complete statistics of her human, material and natural resource endowments. I personally see petroleum (or crude oil & Gas) as one of the valuable natural resources that Nigeria is endowed with. What is the current Nigerian proven oil reserve? 36bbl? Slightly more? Slightly less? What is the current Nigerian proven gas reserve? 202TCF and a potential of 600TCF? Slightly more? Slightly less? If you look at the values closely, I can tell you that the figures are most likely attributable to the Nigerian prolific Niger Delta Basin alone. As you must have been aware by now, crude oil has been discovered recently near Lagos, which falls within the Dahomey Basin. Crude oil has also been discovered within the Anambra Basin. Just recently, NNPC announced the discovery of crude oil around the Gongola Basin. We still have potentials Basins like the Benue trough, Sokoto Basin and the much talked about Lake Chad Basin. Like I explained earlier so long as the exploration activities across the Basins are carried in National interest and to help us know Nigeria’s total hydrocarbon endowment, it should be encouraged BUT if there are other reasons outside national interest (which I can’t tell or confirm at moment), then the champions of the interest or strategy or approach, need to have a rethink.

Oil production is a technically complex and multi-stage process. To enhance performance of oilfield equipment, producers use a variety of process fluids and chemicals, which are selected by oilfield chemistry specialists. Were your researches targeted towards this?

 Yes, but let me say this. So long as there is life, human beings would continue to be curious and so long as the curiosity continues, research by human beings would continue. Research will stop when life come to an end because human beings cannot stop probing even if they appear to have found all the solutions or cure. In the oilfield, we especially in academics are continuously looking for ways to improved the entire chain of activities (whether in the upstream, midstream or downstream sectors) and 100% of the times, we tailor our research works towards enhancing the performances of existing equipment, chemicals or personnel.

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Hydraulic fracturing is one of the most effective ways of managing reservoirs to increase the production level of an oil field and enhance the oil recovery factor (ORF). How is this achieved and what could possibly be the effect on the environment?

 Many reservoirs are much deeper than water aquifers and to that extend do not do much damage to the environment except in cases of downhole accidents and possible blowouts. During hydraulic fracturing, there may be downhole quakes but they are most often not even notice on surface.

Gas management is an essential aspect of development of oil and gas fields. Delivering new projects without proper consideration of the gas component appears inefficient, which brings about the need for new solutions enabling comprehensive employment of field infrastructure for production, treatment and transportation of both oil and gas. Why do we still flare gas despite several warnings and laws and what could be done to stop it?

 Gas is a cleaner fossil fuel when compared to crude oil. Apart from renewables, I can categorically tell you that gas is the energy for the future and gas is the way to go. As Nigeria and Nigerian the principal reason for our inability to manage our gas endowment is purely due to lack of infrastructures to harness it. Serious attention is being given to gas today because it’s the main raw material is needed for fertilizer production, power generation, production industrial materials, domestic usage, LNG and most recently, needed in gas propelled cars. The consciousness is very high today, flaring days are gradually coming to an end and the days of the efficient and effective utilization of Nigerian gas are just beginning.

Data is the new oil. It’s generally believed that in the near future fossil fuels will be history. I want you to predict the future of oil in the next 30 years.

 30 years from now is just 2051, which is just by the corner and by the grace of God you and I might still be here. Do you know when coal was discovered and it is still a major energy source till now? 300 years from now will be like 2331….let me see the hands of those who hope to believe they will still be around then? Let’s keep having fun but not forget to keep planting the seeds of positive growth & development for our future generations. Counsel them to avoid the mistakes that we made and help them improve on our positives and most importantly, surpass our positives.

If you are not in the lab working, how do you relax?

Hmmmmmmm! How do I relax ke? Well, this is the best way I can explain it. The way I use to relax 20yrs ago was different from the way I used to relax 15yrs ago, 10yrs ago, 5yrs ago and now but what all those years have in common is that, I like having enough rest, I like having enough sleep, I love anything that will create and generate some laughter in me because I discovered that laughter relaxes my nerves. Any activity that will make me to laugh and relax my nerves (occasions, visitations, etc) will have a slot during my relaxation moment.

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