The question of impactSeptember 15, 2020
Mark Loquan, president of the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago (NGC), talks to The Energy Year about the company’s approach to sustainability and the significance of recent developments in the Trinidadian gas industry. Established in 1975, state-owned NGC aggregates and distributes the country’s gas resources.
As president of NGC, what sort of company did you inherit and what major changes are you instigating to ensure future success?
NGC is a company with a long and illustrious history, with many achievements of national import to its name. When I joined in 2016, the company was in the process of finalising a strategic plan for the coming five-year term. My challenge was to help build a growth strategy that would allow this company to continue thriving well into the future, and achieve even more. Based on the trajectory of our industry and global business, I felt that no future could be contemplated without a focus on sustainability.
Accordingly, I have been working with my teams to interpret and grow our business through this lens, and we have introduced sustainability reporting as an accountability check. My belief is that the question of impact should figure in every decision we make – we must consider impact on our bottom line, certainly, but also on our people and on our planet. Our success as a business will rely heavily on how responsibly we can grow, and how well we can balance value creation with good corporate citizenship.
What will NGC’s framework agreement with Primera Oil and Gas on the Ortoire block mean for its development?
The economic attractiveness of a project is informed by a number of factors, not least of which is having a buyer for the product. The Ortoire block development – representing the first commercial gas production from onshore fields in nearly two decades – will increase domestic supply available to NGC, and to the downstream sector. The ready market will hopefully drive investment decisions and expedite the production schedule. NGC will also provide support through its infrastructure and experience in gas development.
What are the key details of the sales contract signed with Shell in November 2019?
In November 2019, NGC and Shell Trinidad and Tobago Limited (Shell T&T) successfully concluded negotiations for a fully termed domestic gas sales contract (DGSC). This DGSC follows the term sheet signed in June 2019, which allowed Shell T&T to successfully take the final investment decision regarding the Barracuda (Block 5C) Project on the east coast of Trinidad. The DGSC will ensure continuity of gas supply by Shell T&T to NGC, bolstering the supply outlook for domestic consumers. It also represented the conclusion of one of the last rounds of NGC’s major upstream negotiations.
Four petrochemicals plants have been shuttered in the past four months. Is there a perfect storm of volatility in prices, high production costs and weak demand in the petrochemicals sector? As aggregator, what can NGC do to limit the damage?
The unfortunate reality is that petrochemical companies are up against major challenges due to international market developments. The local gas supply scenario, in which production prices are driving costs up to the final consumer, is further amplifying those challenges. NGC fully understands and appreciates that its own profitability is linked to the health of the entire value chain.
As such, the company has been working aggressively through contract negotiations to arrive at gas pricing that would maximise returns for all parties involved. As aggregator, NGC is better placed to absorb price shocks from any one producer and can protect customers from the vagaries of the market. In this way, the company plays an important buffering role in the energy sector.
Is NGC anticipating a speedy recovery to normality beginning with phase two of the government’s post-Covid-19 roadmap?
The statistical evidence being reported globally on a daily basis indicates that Covid-19 will be with us for a sustained period. Even if the numbers remain low in Trinidad and Tobago, the risk remains high as the virus rages close to home in neighbouring countries. Restrictions on movement are being lifted locally, and there is some border permeability, so we must keep vigilant.
As a country, our focus should be on cautious resumption of activity, guided by strict public health considerations. As a company, our position is to keep working as we have been doing for the past few months, slowly re-integrating staff into the office where necessary. By all indications, there can be no return to the old business paradigm any time soon – we are operating in a new normal, so we must retool and adjust. This cannot be achieved overnight.
The NGC business continuity plan points out that some situations may make “an even stronger case for renewable energy development and energy efficiency” and that NGC and its stakeholders will continue to pursue this agenda. Has Covid-19 awoken a need to further embrace renewable energy sources?
In electricity generation, Trinidad and Tobago is still an energy independent nation. As such, market disruption due to Covid-19 did not directly interfere with our ability to power our activities. However, it did teach some valuable lessons that can be applied to our RE/EE campaign. Firstly, it has shown us how the world can be dramatically altered by natural forces, and how quickly that change can happen. Climate change is a threat that continues to seethe in the background of Covid-19, and could derail economies in much the same way if ignored.
Secondly, and more optimistically, the pandemic has also shown us that we are capable of adapting to radical change when the need presents. If we can react as a people with the same urgency to the issue of climate change by switching to renewable and more efficient technologies, we could look to the future with hope rather than uncertainty.
What is the mission of NGC’s incident management team?
Our incident management team (IMT) is activated to respond to any emergency or crisis situation that may arise which poses a direct threat to our business or stakeholders. It comprises representatives from across different functional areas of the organisation, and the team collaborates to address all exigencies of the situation at hand – emergency response, media engagement, internal communications etc.
The IMT was activated at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and has been working assiduously to implement relevant action items on the company’s business continuity plan.
What safety measures have been put in place in the company and the wider community served by the company?
Before Covid-19 was first detected in Trinidad and Tobago, signage and digital communications were used to educate employees on proper hygiene and preventative care. Sanitiser stations were installed across office facilities and the janitorial service mandate was broadened. Once the first case was confirmed, the company mandated non-essential staff to work from home, and much of the organisation continues to work remotely to date. Employees who were required to be present at the office were properly equipped with personal protective gear, and field crews worked on a shift basis. Temperature screening was initiated at all sites.
What preparatory work needs to go into ensuring operations resume as smoothly as possible, both for you and interested stakeholders when the time comes?
The company recognises that we are operating within a new normal and that adjustments must be made to the way we deliver on our work. We have resolved to continue working remotely where feasible, using technology and the tools at hand to maintain high levels of productivity until the threat of Covid-19 is brought under control.
However, we have started to re-introduce some employees into the office on a rostered basis and prepared our staff and spaces accordingly for this step. All employees must complete a re-orientation training module prior to returning to office. Social distancing markers have been installed on floors, and guidelines on distancing etiquette circulated to staff. Care packs are being distributed with masks and personal sanitisers, and masking is mandatory at certain distances. Automatic doors and bins have also been installed. Temperature screening continues for all employees and visitors at site entrances. Employees are also being asked to continue meeting virtually, even when physically in the same space. The ultimate goal is to make personal hygiene and safety second nature, so that we can better focus on delivering the work at hand.
NGC’s business continuity plan states that the company can work with the country as a whole, even regionally, to help mitigate fallout from Covid-19. Can you outline what, if any, contact you may have had to lend your assistance across the Caribbean?
One of the most important and immediate ways that NGC can lend assistance is through knowledge sharing. NGC has committed to share our plans and learnings from the Covid-19 experience to feed into national and regional integrated response plans. Notably, the company also played a seminal role in the publication of an international guidebook for chemical process safety in times of crisis. Through our vice-president of operations, Ramesh Harrylal, NGC initiated the production of a monograph with the Centre for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) to help companies across the world manage new risks and continue operating safely. This monograph includes insights from the NGC Group experience and will be an important resource for regional and international industry.
How would you outline NGC’s digitalisation plans, including financial analysis and work with SAP to improve uptime integrity? Is there an application for blockchain technology, for example in procurement processes? Do you expect more remote working among nonessential employees in the future?
NGC has a comprehensive technology strategy that aims to bring the organisation up to par with best-in-class tools and processes across all functional areas. We have moved many processes online using the SAP enterprise-management system and we intend to further expand our capabilities with new software and hardware acquisitions.
Among our many upgrades in recent years, we have automated the procurement function, integrating e-auctions into our tendering process; we have introduced drone technology into field operations and are exploring applications for extended reality (XR) in same; we have introduced centralised digital dashboards for reporting and analysing data; we have begun automation of project and portfolio management; we have eliminated most paper-based HR transactions with the move to SAP success factors and we are communicating better than ever through digital platforms.
Looking ahead, the company will continue to scan for technology that can make processes and workflows more efficient and productive. Should blockchain technology be determined a good fit for the organisation, the option of integrating will certainly be considered. At present, however, it does not figure in our medium-term goals, which are instead focused on such novelties as next-generation enterprise resourcing and planning, the industrial internet of things, XR technology and robotics.
There is no denying that digitisation is the only way forward in the post-Covid reality. For the foreseeable future, NGC will continue to facilitate remote working for employees where productivity and practicality permit.
What are your hopes and ambitions for the rest of the year as Trinidad and Tobago works to get life back to normal?
Even as Trinidad and Tobago attempts to reawaken the economy, we must remain vigilant. The threat of Covid-19 remains and will remain for some time. It is my hope that we manage to resume activity in short order, but with minimal risk to our people. I also hope the experience of working through Covid-19 will expedite investment in digitisation of more services across the country and processes within companies. At NGC, we intend to continue delivering, innovating and serving, seeking every opportunity to create value for our country.