Sometimes we explorers have a hard time, sometimes we have something to celebrate.
So, over my career I have great memories of seeing the first logs from the Machar discovery in the North Sea, from Mars in the Gulf of Mexico, from Foinaven in the West of Shetlands, from Girassol in Angola, from Jubilee in Ghana, and so on.
I emphasise that in these examples, sometimes I was ‘on the pitch’, others ‘sitting in the stands’.
However, once in a while there are even bigger memory jolts, for example the other day when I saw that BP had announced first oil from Block 31 (the PSVM project) in Angola and that, according to Bob Dudley, BP group CEO, “Over the coming decade, we expect Angola, where we have extensive interests from exploration through to production, to be one of the main hubs delivering growth for BP”.
A view from a helicopter of BP's Plutao, Saturno, Venus and Marte (PSVM) Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel. Image owned by BP plc.
My mind went back to 1995 when due to a kind of ‘domino effect’ of one person leaving the company, I became the leader of a small, fledgling, team attempting to build BP’s business in West Africa, especially Angola although we also had interests in Nigeria (and for a wee while in Mocambique).
Within a week or so, I made my first discovery – that there were some determined opponents of our involvement in Angola, folk who saw risk not opportunity, who thought that the 3rd world, and Africa in particular, was a scary sort of place (in comparison with say the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, the North Sea), and who tried very hard to get us to stop. I could never figure out whether this was xenophobia or maybe neophobia, or just intra-executive rivalry. You know who you are – for other interested parties, names will be supplied by e-mail!
But my second discovery was that there were many supporters – John Browne, Rodney Chase, Chris Wright, Tony Hayward, Ian Vann - who made sure that we continued and had the resources that we needed, could call on support in Luanda (and Lagos) whenever we needed it, and so on. And finally I discovered that my small team had some great explorers in it – folk who became ‘legends’ in the company! You also know who you are!
So we rolled forward through 1996, 1997 and into 1998, making discoveries in Block 17 and 15, appraising them, enjoying Shell’s failures in Block 16 (it is a competition after all!), encouraging the Angolan Ministry of Petroleum and Sonangol to offer new ultra deep water blocks, working with our partners (Elf and Exxon), culminating in a scary (for me!) few weeks early in 1998 when first of all I had to show up at the BP Group Chief Executive’s Committee with a $1bn+ Finance Memorandum for the FPSO-based development of Girassol followed by something almost as large for our access to the ultra deep water blocks, especially Block 31.
Block 31 was awarded in May 1999 and BP now has interests in nine offshore Angola blocks (15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26 and 31) with operatorship of four (18, 19, 24 and 31) and participation in Angola LNG.
Quite a story! And of course I’m proud to have had a small part in it.
But this article isn’t a display of hubris, or at least I hope not.
My point is that exploration is highly creative, in some ways the true research activity of an oil & gas company, and oftentimes faces strong opposition, for example from engineers and accountants, who are given to saying things like “I don’t see the value proposition here!” to which the only response is “Yes, you don’t see it….but it’s there!” Thus a piece of Bob Dudley’s comment that I especially enjoyed was “PSVM is one of the largest subsea developments in the world and was one of BP’s key project start-ups for 2012 as we grow higher-margin production.”
So fellow explorers, I will offer you my following modification of a saying attributed sometimes to Sun Tzu, sometimes to anonymous Japanese sources:
"If you sit by the river long enough, you will see (the bodies of) your opponents float by.”
Finally, I must pay a tribute to a true unsung hero of BP’s involvement in Angola, namely Dick Field, who for at least a decade was our ‘man In Luanda’ enduring bouts of malaria, the civil war, numerous disappointments, all the time building the relationships which delivered in the end.