Powering the transition towards a low-carbon future

Abdul Aziz Othman, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of PETRONAS Gas Berhad.

At 7:30AM on any given day, Abdul Aziz Othman – Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of PETRONAS Gas Berhad – has started his daily routine.

“I’ll go through my emails and schedule for the day, as well as respond to emails and messages from the team,” he shares. “The rest of my day will be full of discussions, meetings and engagements – I spend around 50-60% of my time with PETRONAS management and customers, and the remaining with my teams.”

Aziz’s main duties include ensuring that Malaysia has a stable and reliable supply of gas. This means ensuring the gas processing plants and gas pipelines that stretch across thousands of kilometres across the country are operated and maintained effectively.

If you ask him, though, he might describe his job in much humbler terms: As an “ambassador” for natural gas.

“At PETRONAS, we have a collective duty to promote the usage of natural gas as a source of greener feedstock. This is especially important in the ongoing energy transition to low-carbon future whereby natural gas is a complementary fuel to renewables, building on its low-carbon qualities,” Aziz shared.

As the cleanest burning fossil fuel, natural gas has made significant contributions to Malaysia’s socio-economic wellbeing, including:

  • Generating RM135 billion in direct economic input;
  • Creating 80,000 jobs;
  • Generating over RM25 in the wider economy for every RM10 generated in the industry;
  • Catalysing Malaysia’s transformation into an industrialised economy;
  • Spawning the Malaysian petrochemicals industry;
  • Supporting RM195 billion output in other industries (including exports); and
  • Providing cleaner energy for society.

The natural gas economy is also projected to contribute over RM40 billion to public finances over the next decade.

“While much has been made of natural gas being clean, environmentally friendly, and an efficient and cost-effective bridging fuel, natural gas is also a fuel of choice for the future, or ‘destination fuel’ in its own right,” explains Aziz.

“The high energy content, efficiency, flexibility, controllable combustion and uniform heating of natural gas, coupled with its low greenhouse (GHG) emissions, make it ideally suited to become the world’s largest source of primary energy in the long term. In this regard, natural gas will power the transition toward a low-carbon future, and is a complementary fuel to renewables.”

Renewables have been a hot topic in the oil and gas industry, but Aziz highlights that it is not the end-all solution to the energy transition and will require natural gas to serve as an “enabling” or “dual” fuel, facilitating and supporting the increased deployment of energy supply from intermittent renewable technologies.

“Attaining an equitable, sustainable and secure energy future will require a range of solutions to ensure resiliency, and it is clear that making natural gas part of the solution for the energy transition will provide a wider scope for innovation, and most importantly, energy security. This also promotes diversity in technology development and gives additional options for policymakers who have to grapple with the realities of technological and infrastructural limitations,” Aziz further mentions.

According to Aziz, as the market shifts toward carbon neutrality, the increasing availability of carbon-neutral LNG is “a step in the right direction”, but that alone isn’t enough.

“It requires changing the rules and institutions that govern the market,” he shares. “As a result, no single company has the proper incentives to fully develop them. They will need to partner with others and become part of a coalition for market transformation – a coalition that includes other stakeholders, facilitated by supportive governmental policies.”

Moving forward, Aziz predicts that the gas industry will see three major areas of change:

  1. The global emphasis on decarbonisation will influence economies, giving way to increased multilateral cooperation on climate change that would create opportunities for low carbon solutions including natural gas;
  2. An increased emphasis on innovation within the natural gas industry, particularly those that relate to enhancing sustainability such as Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) technologies; and
  3. The adoption of digitalisation, Big Data and automation that would create new growth and job opportunities.

Challenges include making sure employees are kept abreast of changing trends and industry needs, but Aziz is confident that PETRONAS has more than risen to the challenge, even in pandemic times that have resulted in a major workflow disruption around the world.

“Focusing on our core business, our office-based staff have switched to Working from Home (WFH) following Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO), while other staff and contractors required on site are reminded to always adhere to strict Safety Operating Procedures (SOPs) while maintaining reliable supply to our customers.

We have also adopted new digital technologies to keep communication lines open between our staff, suppliers, customers, and the authorities. In echoing the PETRONAS digital transformation journey, more digital initiatives are being adopted, especially to maximise our plants’ reliability and efficiency. These efforts include centralising controls through advanced digital tools as well as data analytics that help prevent business interruptions and maximise reliability,” says Aziz.

The secret to such organisational success? Staying in touch with the team and stakeholders’ needs.

“I promote an open culture,” says Aziz. “In fact, I encourage my teams to speak up, ask questions, and even contact me directly on my mobile. Besides this, balancing my time equally between internal and external stakeholders has ensured that things continue to run smoothly, and the flow of information is clear and correct.”

With such open communication encouraged within the team and organisation, it is clear that Aziz takes it upon himself to lead by example – which can only herald great things for PETRONAS, going forward.