Oman’s challenging geology makes it the world’s premier playground for exploration and production technology and a pioneer in this area. Managing Director at NAFAS International, Dr. Syham Bentouati, explains the opportunities and challenges in introducing foreign technologies to the region.
What advice would you give someone who is trying to introduce new technologies? How would they go about doing this?
I remember once we had a meeting with a German monk. He came here and did a presentation on renewable energy. Then when he finished and we shook his hand, he just stood there. And I said, “Okay, we’re finished. We had our coffee. Thank you.” But he really thought that in the Middle East when we shake your hand, we just give you loads of money. Many people don’t do their homework and have this preconceived notion that people here don’t know anything and just have loads of money.
Do your homework and don’t be naïve. You should talk to someone who has experience in the field before you spend a lot of time and money.
There are protocols you have to follow. Everything takes a lot longer. Even if it’s something interesting and everyone wants it, it still takes a long time. It’s also very important to know who to talk to. Some people will entertain you for months and turn you around and around but they’re not decision-makers, they’re just wasting your time.
Who would you say are decision-makers in Oman?
In some companies you can go two or three levels up and get to the decision-makers. Other times it’s the government. Some companies it’s a huge, complicated web that you need to navigate through. That’s why it’s not so easy. It’s not one model fits all.
What are the challenges in oil & gas exploration and production in Oman? What works and what doesn’t?
When extracting oil there is a honeymoon phase where the oil flows freely but in Oman they have passed that stage a long time ago and are in enhanced oil recovery. Once in enhanced oil recovery you are working with much higher costs, which is why new technologies at lower costs are a huge opportunity in Oman.
It’s hard to say what all the proposals are. I can tell you on a case-by-case if something works and whether it has been tried. It’s really quite specific because Oman has almost every challenge in oil and gas.
We have almost every technology that exists in the world. When you want to introduce something new, it’s a very good idea to talk to somebody who can tell you if it’s already tried here and whether or not it works.
How much government interference is there in Oman?
If the government owns the company, then they will have a seat on the board. Generally speaking, the government doesn’t interfere too much unless there is a good reason for it. You have to make your case and then will determine approval.
What would you say is the future of oil and gas technologies?
Low-cost water treatment technologies. In the north of Oman, in Kuwait, and in Saudi Arabia, the water that comes with the oil is four times saltier than the sea. There are technologies created to address this problem, but they are very expensive right now. This is like the holy grail.
Advancements in high pressure and high temperature tools also have a market potential as Oman continues into new levels of enhanced oil recovery and unconventionals.
Anything that saves water. Like waterless fracking. It exists, but if it can be made cheaper.
Do you think renewable energy can replace fossil fuels in the foreseeable future?
You can’t change the fact that the sun doesn’t shine in certain hours of the day or days in the year. Sometimes there’s nothing to store. The idea is to use as much as possible renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel usage and related CO2 emissions as much as possible. But will it be 100% possible? Probably not in my lifetime. Unless something fundamentally new is invented tomorrow. Which is possible. Everything is possible.
Dr. Syham Bentouati is the Managing Director at NAFAS International LLC. Having earned her PhD in Electrical Engineering from The University of Sheffield, she worked seven years for Rolls-Royce and then accrued upwards of nine years in the oil and gas industry, she graciously provided us with her insight into the Oman oil and gas industry. In particular, bringing new technologies and business models to the region.