Environmental services for the triple bottom lineFebruary 8, 2022
Matuzalem Sukete, general manager of Angola Environmental Serviços (AES), talks to The Energy Year about Angola’s upstream performance in the wake of the pandemic and trends driving demand for waste management services. With facilities at the Sonils Base in Luanda and Kwanda Base in Soyo, AES provides environmental and integrated waste management services to the oil and gas sector.
What is your assessment of Angola’s upstream performance in the wake of the pandemic?
Despite the energy industry rebranding towards a focus on power and renewables, drilling is still seen as an essential part of the transition and development. In general, the oil companies are expected to increase their activities, particularly in drilling, in 2022 and such a pickup of activities in the sector will boost the economy and help grow employment.
How will energy transition trends change operators’ views on environmental preservation?
If there was ever a time when people can no longer doubt the necessity of environmental preservation, it’s now. Right now, the world is thinking of how to innovate more in renewable energy, which will still require continuing with current activities. If our attitude towards this transition period doesn’t take the environment into consideration, we may be building in one direction and then creating liabilities in a different direction.
The bottom line should not be focused simply on financial figures. It should include sustainability issues in environmental protection and social responsibility. It’s essential for all the players to consider this triple bottom line (TBL) view of things.
AES will adjust to the current dynamic of rebranding from oil production to energy production. If hydrocarbons production ceases tomorrow, what will AES’ position be? We need to adjust so we don’t become obsolete. We are still doing a lot of studies and identifying niches around this issue. We will continue to be a valuable partner and supplier to the sector.
What are the factors affecting the emergence of waste management companies in Angola?
The increase in upstream activity should go hand in hand with environmental preservation. Drilling activity is going to increase and this will certainly generate waste. Angola has always had multiple players in the waste management sector, so there are capabilities here for treatment. Some of the players are becoming more active in the market than before. There are sufficient capabilities here, so there’s no excuse for not practising proper waste management.
Companies like AES are indispensable tools for the energy industry to produce and carry out this important economic activity in a sustainable way. One of our principles around economic change is to adjust while continuing to be supportive of client needs.
What are the prospects for developing naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) solutions in the country?
A lot of materials involved in oil production are radioactive by nature. NORM is one of the biggest waste management challenges that Angola and the world in general currently face. In 2021, as a pioneer in the country, AES introduced a solution to reduce the volume of NORM, which oil companies have stored in various facilities. We’ve found a solution for decontaminating pipes that are decommissioned or obsolete and are no longer usable. It only remains a headache in terms of volume and occupied space. Regarding radioactive risk, the level of radiation is extremely low.
We just launched the service last year and have the necessary approval. We started executing the activity around June 2021, with the corresponding approval. As of December 2021, we were only working with one operator. However, we’ve been contacted by various others to do the same. As we are in a very early stage, we want to make sure that everything goes smoothly before over-committing.
AREA (Autoridade Reguladora da Energia Atómica), the regulatory authority in the country for NORM and radioactive material, has come to our facilities, tested the decontaminated material and approved our process as effective. They concluded that the material is decontaminated and can be considered normal waste – in this case, scrap.
How did the company develop the in-house capability to deliver this novel service?
AES has a lot of experience in handling NORM waste. We’ve been doing this for 14 years now. The AES people are the most important in all this. Having the right people committed to the cause and vision of the organisation makes the path smooth. Most of our staff handling this process has been the same throughout the years. They have had various training and refreshments and have been building their capability along the years. Equipment can be designed and manufactured, but the most important thing is to have capability, know-how and experience to be sure that you do it in a safe way for the environment and for the people in the organisation. This is equally important to meeting the objective of reducing the waste volumes as intended.
What is AES’ market share in the domestic waste management segment?
AES is the leader in this market with an important market share, and wants to continue leading in terms of innovation and providing cost-effective waste management solutions for the industry. Right now there are about five drilling rigs in the country. If everything goes according to plan, we expect to have nine or 10 rigs by the end of 2022.
Regarding AES’ capability and the scope of our infrastructure, AES has over the years developed capabilities to attend to a total of 30 rigs at once in the country. In 2015 and 2016, Angola had about 29-30 rigs and at that time AES expanded its waste handling and treatment capabilities to respond to such a demand. That’s when we started our Soyo operations. AES had at the time become the company with the biggest treatment capacity through thermal desorption units [TDUs] in the whole world.
In 2022, we expect that about a third of the infrastructure that AES has built will be in use. We’ve also been invited a few times to open branches in other countries where this solution and experience is desired for waste management for their local oil industry.
How do you maintain asset productivity in times of demand instability?
Our waste treatment capabilities have been built in a system where we can expand or contract easily. We have this flexibility for mobile assets, which are easily transportable. For instance, in thermal desorption technologies, we can increase the capacity as demand increases. In 2016, AES had 11 TDUs in the country, which gave us something close to 120,000 tonnes per year of treatment capacity for drill cuttings. We had to export some of these units to other countries. Currently, we have eight TDUs in the country. This is still a significant number, and we have the potential to bring in more within a few months if the market requires it. Our entire infrastructure – the whole setup with the facility and other less movable parts – is currently underused, meaning we have some idle assets at the moment.
How prepared is Angola to carry out environmentally sustainable onshore production?
I’m always of the opinion that human beings are capable of doing things properly if they want to. If Angola wants to do it, it is possible to do it in a sustainable way as long as the commitment is there and we have the right people in place. Angola has had oil exploration and drilling activities onshore for almost as long as the sector has existed in the country.
In fact, AES’ expansion plans have always considered onshore production. We have clients that operate onshore. We’ve been the major supplier for waste management in the Cabinda Norte project. As we didn’t have a facility there, we put together a setup that supported the entire project until it came to an end. So we can take up the challenges.
What’s the latest on AES’ development of a new landfill project?
The design phase has been completed. We should be able to submit it for approval very soon. We are working on the environmental study. For this project specifically, we’re using both a local and an international company. We believe we can come to better, more effective, and more secure solutions by involving a lot of expertise.
We have always worked with technical partners – most of them being on an international scale. We will continue working with partners because this is the way we can maintain a proper, internationally acceptable standard.
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