Interview with Kemas Adrian, Environmental and Sustainability Engineer, Pertamina Hulu

Green planet against blue sky and clean nature

How can vertical integration help the industry move towards sustainable success and can the era of virtual refinery help secure a clean energy future?

What does a typical day in your role look like? What are the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenges are:

  1. Mature fields, older facilities and equipment which potentially leads to less efficient – less environmental friendly  – operations.
  2. Investment cost for new green/advanced technology.
  3. Natural declining of oil and gas resulting in more wastes generated (such as sand, water, etc).

My typical day would be:

  1. Performing environmental quantification for daily operations data to show current environmental performance of the company clearly. 
  2. Proactively looking for innovation and initiatives by performing Life studies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Audit Energy, etc.
  3. Develop publications (journal, sustainability report, etc).
  4. Monitor ISO 14001 implementation on site.
  5. Developing contracts for executing environmental & sustainability related project.
  6. Budgeting

What do you think will be the biggest impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the oil and gas downstream industry? What do you think the shape of post-pandemic recovery looks like for your organization?

On April 2020, oil prices had fallen more than 70% amid cratering demand and stubbornly elevating supply. Real time data revealed that habit is changing worldwide. Whatever the short-run uncertainties around COVID-19, it remains to be seen whether the global economy and energy demand will eventually revert to the long-run trajectories anticipated in many modeling efforts.

Oil and gas business have directly taken a hit due to drop of oil prices, drop of demands, limitation to perform daily operations, but the operational cost is still high. In order to survive, one must adapt and that is exactly what organizations shall do. The organization needs to rethink the vision and the mission including short-medium-long term in order to keep their existence. Digitalization, efficient operations, transparent, proactive, innovative, decisive, integration, shall become the focus of new organization

What role will vertical integration between downstream, midstream and upstream play in the next normal of the oil and gas downstream industry?

This is the integration between upstream, midstream, and downstream summarized below:

Vertical integration between downstream, midstream and upstream is the key to ensure the longevity of the company. Without alignment, it would create imbalance between the supply, processing, and demand. Changing of energy consumption habits in the short term (due to Covid-19) and long term (due to energy transition) would require upstream, midstream, and downstream to rethink their short, medium, and long-term vision. One cannot go without considering others. Digitalization is one of the most important tools to support vertical integration to ensure efficient operations and transparency.

How will new technologies shape the recovery of the oil and gas downstream industry? Are we entering the era of the virtual refinery?

Our mission altogether is providing a cleaner, more reliable energy and at the end of the day, reducing emissions per barrel of oil produced. Virtual refinery is one of the tools that can help companies achieve that. Usage of virtual refinery can help companies in a lot of ways such as:

  1. Become well-trained for real-life challenges by implementing VR-based training which replicates critical conditions of the operations and drilling zone. This facilitates the workers to get accustomed to the situation in advance.
  2. Implementing VR goggles to simulate the refinery equipment and sensor data superimposed on the 3D model allows a technician to identify problem and provide solutions promptly.
  3. Using 3D visualisation suite to create a Virtual Team consisting of domain experts. The Virtual Team evaluates real-time data along with 3D visualisation of downhole drilling equipment.
  4. Using 3D glasses and software, the geophysicists, geologists and drilling engineers can study geologic structures in minute detail. This allows them to observe the various layers of oil, gas, and water present in the reserves. The 3D models based on seismic images would help the company evaluate prospects of hydrocarbon reserves.
  5. For operators and engineers, virtual refinery will help them to enhance field training methods. The platform creates a virtual plant environment to provide knowledge about equipment and processes to plant operators and engineers. The simulated facility mimics variety of real-life scenarios. These include unplanned shutdowns, abnormal operations, and emergency responses. The technology enables this to happen in a safe controlled environment. This technology facilitates the trainees to understand and act based on situations.

One of the biggest challenges the market faces is equipping the workforce to adapt to the pace of digitalisation? How do you empower your workforce to adapt to the digitalisation strategies needed to survive and thrive in the new normal?

Professionals need to adapt to the situation (digitalization) at different paces depending on their background but firstly, the company must sell the idea about the importance of digitalization through effective communication so all the workforce understands the need to change. The next step is providing sufficient training sessions to ensure a smooth transition of the company into digitalization. Most of us have succeeded in transitioning from work from office (WFO) to fully work from home (WFH) and using virtual refinery to support their operations, and there is no reason to stop adapting further. 

What role will hydrogen play in the future of the industry, and your organization? Do you think that hydrogen is a sustainable and viable future for the downstream sector?

Hydrogen has emerged as an important part of the clean energy mix needed to ensure a sustainable future. Falling costs for hydrogen produced with renewable energy, combined with the urgency of cutting greenhouse-gas emission, has given clean hydrogen unprecedented political and business momentum. Current and future sourcing options can be divided into grey (fossil fuel-based), blue (fossil fuel-based production with carbon capture, utilization and storage) and green (renewables-based) hydrogen. Green hydrogen produced through renewable-powered electrolysis is projected to grow rapidly in the coming years. As an industry, supporting commercial scale pilot projects is essential, since generally, the technology requires around 20 years to be implemented in larger scale since its being founded and currently it is our responsibility to speed it up.

There are several important developments in the world, for example electrolysers are growing from megawatt to gigawatt scale. However, a hydrogen-based energy transition will not happen overnight. Hydrogen use is likely to catch on for specific target applications. The need for new supply infrastructure could limit hydrogen use to countries adopting this strategy. There are some ‘way-out’ to use refurbished existing gas pipeline, but the implications of replacing abruptly should be further explored.

How can digitalisation/new technologies help organisations reach their sustainability goals?

Sustainability goals are directly applied to 3 items (profit, people, planet). Digitalization will enhance companies’ productivity which leads to profit, then directly leads to a cleaner and more reliable energy produced since leftovers from inefficiency can be removed , protecting the planet, and improving our contribution to the community around us and to the economy in general which can help people. In fact, digitalization is the only way to adapt to this situation.

Do you think that sustainability is increasingly becoming a corporate CSR and ESG concern? How can organisations adapt to stakeholders’ sustainability demands?

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and corporate social responsibility criteria are an increasingly popular way for investors to evaluate companies in which they might want to invest. Many mutual funds and brokerage firms, and robo-advisors now offer products that employ ESG criteria. ESG criteria will help investors avoid companies that might pose a greater financial risk due to their environmental or other practices.

Developing sustainability reports for the first time refers to requirements in the Global Reporting Initiatives (especially GRI 200,300,400 about economics, social, and environmental). This would be the right step to understand the demand of how to become a sustainable company. After realizing what to do, the company can develop short, medium, and long-term action plans to fulfill the stakeholder’s sustainability demands.

How will the industry adapt and respond to the growing demand for petrochemicals?

The demand for petrochemicals is indeed rising and almost apple-to-apple with increasing of population of the country. If the upstream industry fails to adapt by providing the amount of gas needed and projected, the amount of imported gas for petrochemicals industry will be increasing (it will disturb not trade balance of the country).

Vertical integration between downstream, midstream and upstream is  key so in the future, petrochemical plants can be integrated with oil refineries seamlessly, by upgrading the capacity & capability of refinery plants, and so on. 

What will be the biggest challenge to be environmental and sustainability engineers in the next 3 -5 years?

The biggest challenges to become an environmental and sustainability engineer in the next 3-5 years are:

  1. Our oil fields mostly are mature fields with older facilities and equipment that are naturally less efficient and less reliable – which can lead to less environmentally friendly operations.
  2. Investment cost for new green/advanced technology is expensive and the installation for that new technology requires time which we do not have. To install a new engine, a series of trials must be made and the window for installation is very short (during planned shutdown). Without established plan (and convincing arguments to management and stakeholders), that budget would be cut during budget challenge session.
  3. Natural declining of oil and gas resulting in more waste  generated (such as sand, water, etc).

How do you encourage greater diversity in the oil and gas and downstream industry?

Sustainability is diversity. For a company, it means we should explore as many as opportunities as possible to provide cleaner and more reliable energy. We should not count out any idea as absurd and should always be looking for every opportunity that we can find. Energy audit, ISO 50001 and life cycle analysis assessment can become the pioneers to find the ‘hot spot’ of your process facility and to give a picture of what to do in the short, medium, and long term. Globally, we are gradually changing from fossil fuel and coal to more renewable energy sources such as geothermal, hydrogen, wind, solar, nuclear, etc. The push from investors and regulatory requirements about renewable energy and sustainable operations is also catching up. Sustainability is diversity and there is no one answer, but multiple solutions.  

What would be your tip for young engineers looking to enter the industry?

Young engineers should work with passion to help their company provide cleaner and more reliable energy. Our industry is data driven and young engineers will get exposure to many types of data: from operations, reliability, environmental, social, and other kinds of data along the way. Young engineers should have patience managing this data, and proactively looking for innovative ways to find a more efficient way to do something.  Data without context is just noise, but data with context will have purpose and young engineers should be able to create that context, to support companies to become more efficient.