FIRST E & P – gas-based future

We return to talk with FIRST E & P about how it is giving back to Nigeria & preparing to transform ahead of the energy transition.

FIRST Exploration & Petroleum Development Company Ltd (FIRST E&P) has established itself over the last decade as a deeply technical, commercial, and entrepreneurial business set to offer full delivery capabilities throughout the entire upstream oil and gas value chain.

Since it was established in 2011 the company’s strategic goal has been to be the most admired independent exploration and production company while contributing to the wellbeing of Nigerians.

On the tenth anniversary of its establishment, it has just come through the other side of an extremely eventful year.

“It has been hectic for us, as it has for the whole of the industry,” admits Cees Uijlenhoed, CFO of FIRST E&P. “I think we can now look back on a very successful last 12 months. The most important development is that we are now at 3.7 million man-hours with no Lost time incident on our project and the company.”

3.7 million hours is a major achievement by any standard but achieving that during the Covid19 pandemic is astounding.

“The COVID19 protocols in place have proven to be very robust for staff contractors and sub-contractors, so that is a major achievement,” Cees tells us. “We have delivered first oil on our major project at the Anyala West Field at the end of October last year which, is in my estimate the only major oil and gas project to achieve that during COVID. It demonstrates that Nigeria, despite its reputation, is a place where you can do business.”

FIRST E&P sold its first cargo in January 2021 and is scheduled to sell another parcel onto the market every 15 days. In total, 8 million barrels have been produced to date, generating over USD 500 million in revenue for Nigeria, which is totally incremental for the country. The company has also developed its own crude oil blend, which has a special significance to Cees.

“Another major achievement is the crude oil, CJ Blend, named after my son, Cees Junior” Cees explains. “We started with a trial marketing period, our first cargo was sold at a discount to Dated Brent of $2.31, and we’re now selling at a premium. It is evidence of the quality of the crude. So, it has been an eventful last 12 months but very satisfying.”

3.7 Million Man-Hour Achievements

However, FIRST E & P’s proudest achievement remains that landmark 3.7 million safe work hours. This is not a result you can achieve through luck alone, as Cees points out.

“A lot of it is managed through the procedures developed for workplace safety. At the end of the day, safety is in the behaviour and hearts and minds of the people,” he says. “For a simple example, if people don’t want to hold a handrail when they go downstairs, you can put as many stickers as you like on the wall and, they won’t do it. But if they believe it’s the right thing to do, they will. We spent a lot of time talking about safety as a way of living. We had a safety campaign earlier in the year sponsored by me where we say safety doesn’t stop at the gate. Safety extends 24/7 into your house and personal environment.”

As well as safety, FIRST E & P also prioritises sustainability, something not many people associate with the crude oil sector.

“Sustainability is obviously an issue in a resource-depleting industry. Almost by definition, you’re not sustainable. So where does sustainability come into it?” Cees asks. “Part of our vision is to benefit the wellbeing of Nigerians. Three of the most basic needs of a community are potable water, medical care, and education.”

FIRST E&P takes to heart the old saying about “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach him to fish, and you’ll have fed him for a lifetime”.

“Traditionally other companies would drill a borehole for a community, it produced potable water, and the company would leave. One way or another, the pump will break because the pump won’t work for ten years, so the community is now upset with the company because the community feels the company has the responsibility to keep the water flowing. That is not a sustainable model,” Cees explains. “ Our sustainability model involves developing our social interventions in a participatory way with our communities by ensuring the maintenance of the constructed infrastructure is planned into the implementation and having community representation working closely with the construction company. These representatives are also trained by the construction company on how to maintain the infrastructure.

FIRST E&P has also been engaged in plastic recycling and community clean-up schemes, partnering with NGOs and local youth. We have adopted two beaches for the next two years to clean and recycle plastic waste from the beaches. The beach adoption project also includes capacity building on waste recycling and employment creation for women and youth in these coastal communities boarding the beaches.

Education is another sector where the company will invest to aid local education because we believe it contributes significantly to breaking the cycle of poverty.

“In our communities, the classroom ratio is one teacher to ten classrooms (or 193 children). Working with the local development group, we have reduced the ratio to one teacher to five classrooms. In addition, we have also collaborated with a university to provide refresher training to primary and secondary school teachers from our communities.

Still, on education, we started our scholarship scheme this year with eight students. This involves providing full scholarships to underprivileged students who live in the communities and placing them in a first-class boarding school in Lagos – a city in Nigeria.

So, we took eight students and put them in a first-class boarding school here in Lagos,” Cees says. “When they graduate out of the first year, we’ll put eight more in and continue that process to reach a total of 64 students over time. We’re supporting each of these children, and the impact is just phenomenal. I’m a mentor to one of the children, and we welcomed them to Lagos four weeks ago. For the first time, they travelled in an aeroplane, saw a smartphone, played games on a tablet. My son CJ was excited to show Goodluck (my mentee) the workings of a smartphone. The children have been in a boarding school for four weeks now. The transformation in the children is tremendous already.”

“When we first met them four weeks ago, most of them could barely look up at you and appeared quiet and reserved,” Cees recalls. “Today, they are acting as any teenager would. They are more confident and assertive, and you can readily see a great improvement in their social skills. It’s so exciting to see how these children developed themselves in only four weeks. That’s where sustainability and empowerment enter our business.”

Cees also expects the company to undergo a more fundamental transformation in aid of sustainability.

“We’re moving away from traditional oil company practices here in Nigeria which, for a long time, have not developed since the 1980s,” he says. “It is very exciting as a company to be able to limit your emissions by importing and applying these new technologies. We’re moving into the gas space, the ESG space, and shaping the agenda for Nigeria.”

The key point, Cees points out, is that in much of Africa, the energy transition looks very different from how it does in other parts of the world.

“For us, the transition isn’t going to hydrogen or solar or wind energy. For us, the energy transition is in the first instance from firewood and charcoal to gas,” he explains. “So, our next project is around gas, and developing that gas business and delivering gas from offshore to the domestic market. A large part of our future will be gas-based.”

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