Mrs. Patricia Ochogbu, FNAPE a distinguished fellow of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE) and the immediate past President (2nd female) of the association. She currently works as the PSC Interface Manager at ExxonMobil.
She started her now 36+ active career years as a Special Projects Geologist at NNPC (E&P Division), was Exploration Geologist at DES and Deputy Manager Geology at NAPIMS before she joined Mobil Producing Nigeria. She has rich expertise across integrated opportunity generation for shallow water and deep-water fields and has worked on various Exploration, Development & Production assets in the Chad, Niger Delta and Angola basins.
Patricia is a graduate of Geology from the Obafemi Awolowo University, certified by the Council of Nigerian Mining Engineers and Geoscientists (COMEG), a member of the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society (NMGS) as well as the American Association of Petroleum Explorationists (AAPG). She is passionate about mentoring students/young geoscientists for successful careers.
In this interview with Majorwaves Energy Report Editor, Margaret Nongo-Okojokwu, the second female president of the Nigerian Association Petroleum Exploeationists (NAPE) takes us through her journey into the Oil and Gas industry, her career progress as she navigates the ship of one the strongest associations in the Nigerian oil and gas industry. She also speaks on the trending discourse on energy transition and the place of gas in Nigeria’s economy. Excerpts
Can you take us through your journey into STEM? How was it like from high school to the university?
So in primary school and even high school, I just found that my niche was actually like the sciences, the social sciences like geography. At my secondary school (Idia college) my Geography teacher taught with so much passion that I fell in love with geography. I mistakenly thought that geography and geology were twins but they’re not (I know that now). They have a relationship in the geomorphology area and I had no prior encounters with geoscientists. The love of geo, which is the love of the earth and that made me choose geology on my JAMB form, even though my family didn’t want me to do that; they wanted me to read Pharmacy, but I eventually convinced them that I wanted to study geology.
And you managed to convince them?
Oh, Yes. My mom was a reasonable woman. You just needed to have your arguments and supporting facts to convince her. Somebody in my church gave me a letter to a Professor in Ife (University of Ife) to help me in changing my course to Pharmacy, because at the time, they hadn’t heard of any successful geologist, either male or female. However, when I met Professor Eyo Okon in Ife, and spoke with him, he listened to me, saw and understood my passion that I was really interested in geology, and so he gave me a letter to my Mom and this helped to convince her to let me follow my passion and study Geology. It wasn’t easy studying geology at that time, but because that was what I wanted to do, I stuck to my goals through thick and thin and today, here we are!
That must have been an amazing journey. As you progressed in your careerr, what would you describe as your most challenging period and how did you navigate that?
That would be when I was drilling wells in one of the Exxon blocks. I drilled and ran into a technical dry hole, meaning that there’s supposed to be oil there but it was not sand bearing. We couldn’t find the oil and that was very unsettling. I had to re-evaluate my data and found that there were some micro faults in that area that I did not initially recognize. So, I proposed a sidetrack and I’m happy to say that the sidetrack found my initial prediction. This taught me a valuable lesson, to always consider all possible outcomes before recommending a drilling location.
What is your regular activity like, maybe like a past time?
I love reading books as it offers an escape from reality. I also love to travel. I have never been to Hong Kong but from reading books, I have a picture in my mind what Hong Kong looks like, including the roads. It’s now on my bucket list of where to go whenever I am able.
How do you create work-life balance? How does that work for you?
I have to say that my husband is also my professional colleague, so he knows the pressure of work on me; and with that said, We have help in our family, a great support system, and and so create schedules that fit everybody’s purpose per time; and that has helped me a lot.
Lets talk about the COVID-19 global pandemic, How has this changed your life and your activities?
The global pandemic changed my orientation a lot because it helped me define what is important and to value my relationships. You find out that quite a lot of people didn’t make it, other people went through a lot of stress, so at the end of the day you think like if this person was alive, what would I have done, what would I have told this person? It helped me to value my relationships more.
So looking at mentorship and giving back, how have you been able to achieve this for the girl-child, especially, looking at where you’re coming from?
So personally, I’m a firm believer in creating opportunities for the girl child. So many times these there are sponsorship opportunities, maybe NAPE training for example. I usually skew my giving more to the girl child. I do give to the boys too, but more to the girls because in this profession, they have to overcome a lot of challenges to succeed. We have an organization called WIGE (Women In Geosciences and Engineering), which also organises programmes to encourage the girl-child.
In the past, I’ve spoken to school children through organisations like Soroptimist and co, who talk about STEM and try to show females other possible career paths they can venture into rather than sticking to a streamlined career path that our parents encouraged in the past, like Lawyers, Doctors, engineers, etc. Using my life as an example, my mom stopped schooling in Primary four; but had seen people go to college to become Lawyers, Doctors, etc and this sort of helped them buy into my vision of being a geologist. This is why I, through my role, help these young girls to see the vision of being a geologist beyond the known factors. I believe that by encouraging them to participate in some of these training programmes, we are creating awareness that there are other career paths that they can explore.
Interesting! So If you weren’t a geologist , what else would you have ventured into seeing your passion for geology?
I would have been a spy. (laughs). Because I read a lot, and as a teenager, I was into detective stories like the famous James Hardly Chase, James Bond, Nick Carter, etc. I read their books to look at clues not to shoot people; but to get a convincing story
I met Professor Eyo Okon in Ife, and spoke with him, he listened to me, saw and understood my passion that I was really interested in geology, and so he gave me a letter to my Mom and this helped to convince
and now even as a geologist, I make judgement calls and sell them to my bosses. If I am persuasive enough, my bosses will get around them. So yes, I would have been a spy and if this career path was not open, then I would have been a market woman perhaps in Balogun Market (laughs).
I believe you’d have been a successful one too ma’am.
I don’t know about that o (laughs)!
So coming to your professional life, starting with NAPE; what was the major thrust of your NAPE leadership? How would you rate yourself that you’ve fared?
My key goal was to empower NAPE members, especially the YPs (Young Professionals) through training and retraining, so we came up with different programs, webinars, financial empowerment training, technical training, to make sure that people are exposed to the various opportunities that one could get in our industry. Also I believe that giving NAPE members a platform, particularly with all the discussions around the PIB/PIA, lending our voices in the discourse, as a professional body, we were able to do that also through webinars and focus groups. So I’ll like to think of what I accomplished in this this light. As for Rating myself that will be difficult for me. Other people should
rate and judge my performance because the Bible says that they judging themselves by themselves are are not wise. So I would leave that to members to decide.
That would be when I was drilling wells in one of the Exxon blocks. I drilled and ran into a technical dry hole,
So how do you see the place of technology in improving drilling activities in Nigeria’s marginal field operations?
Yes, there’s a place for technology, though not in marginal fields only but the general operations. Artificial intelligence and Machine learning are here and there are lots of new technologies springing up. When you look at machines, you still need people to validate results from the various softwares. Otherwise, the saying “garbage in, garbage out” will hold true. So I see the place of technology and I see the place for people, they must work together.
Do you think Nigeria is ready for such kind of technology?
Yes, we have always been ready, it doesn’t have to be homegrown. That’s why many organizations provide training and many employers also train their staff . So where there is a will, there is a way even if we do not have it, I believe we can access it.
Lets talk about the trending energy transition move that’s ongoing globally, even in Nigeria, how would you advise developing nations to go forward with no approvals of new projects funding as regards energy transition?
Everyone who is a player in the oil and gas sector, as well as business people will have to evaluate the costs of bringing their products to the market and the appetite of the market to take it. There will still be some products that will come on definitely due to demand.
As you have seen in Europe recently and even in parts of America, there has been scarcity of heating oils and gas. In Europe, there have been issues about gas, even in the UK, with the uncertainty around Russia’s supply. Meanwhile, we all know that oil and gas is a depleting asset, so if you are producing, you have to bring more online if not it will definitely finish. I believe that new projects will come on if they are viable and if no new projects are coming on, then there has to be work to extend the lifespan of the existing projects.
The International Energy Agency says that based on net-zero targets in Europe, European and American nations will not be funding projects if it’s not on zero fossil. In that situation where funding is not coming from outside based on the net-zero target, how can we survive and what would you advise our indigenous contractors or operators to do?
My advice will be that organizations, even Nigeria as a nation should start looking inwards to other ways of fundraising, and then we should consciously give priority to things that are important to us. There has to be a way that the government will source for funds , perhaps, the much talked about energy bank could be one way to go about it. When we talk about this net zero, we are not saying keep on polluting the environment, there are many things we can do, even right now, that would protect the environment, so companies operating in Nigeria should have this in their plans.
I think what net zero is saying is don’t just go on spreading carbon dioxide and other pollutants, have a plan. So there’s a new field of study now called carbon capture and sequestration. It would take investments and it would take efforts also but I think it is doable.
Looking at the discussions at COP 26 pointing towards this same sustainability trend and the deliberations that could arise from it, what would you make out of that?
I think for the environment, it is a good initiative because we live on this planet and it has to be comfortable for us if not we will all go extinct just like the dinosaurs, but then there should be a balance between the G20s, developed and developing nations. There should be a balance of the needs of the people, because If you look at countries like China,
my husband is also my professional colleague, so he knows the pressure of work on me; and with that said, We have help in our family,
Russia who contribute a lot to the pollution of this planet, relative to a country like Nigeria or other countries in Africa, there’s nothing to compare, we are not so much on the offenders’list, thus they cannot apply same rules; we need this energy for our own development too. These nations are already advanced, they have already caused a lot of havoc and now we have to pay the same price? I think that is unfair, and I know the Nigerian government has made statements in that direction. I think that there should be some proportionality to the bill that every nation get to pay for this global clean up.
Lets talk about NAPE and its position on gas development and potentials in Nigeria?
NAPE thinks there’s a massive opportunity in the gas world. Most of the gas we have found to date in Nigeria was found on the way to prospecting for oil. Now we have to consciously explore for gas! Early in my career, if you drill a well and found only gas, it would be seen more or less as a dry hole because you could not sell it at that time. But now, if we go looking for gas, I think the opportunities are massive, but then we need to have the infrastructure to be able to take it to the market. And I believe that Nigeria’s population being more than 200 million people gives an edge, we have the markets, and if we are willing to invest, then I think the sky is the limit. Nigeria is a huge market.
And is NAPE well positioned to tap into the government’s Decade of Gas Initiative?
Of course, NAPE members are explorationists, we like to look for oil and gas. Though there are so many discussions that have not yet matured, but I am sure that in a very short time, all the pronouncements by the government through the minister, who also declared this decade as the ‘Decade of Gas’, will come to fruition. I believe that there will be initiatives and incentives to go with this, for example in the PIA, there’s more clarity now on the deepwater gas aspect. I believe that we’ll see some motion in this direction.
What’s your assessment of Nigerian content development and where would you point to for improvements like grey areas, for instance?
I believe that the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) is doing a fantastic job. If I were to advise the Executive Secretary it would be that they do frequent assessments; assess the system, see what worked and what did not work, get feedback from all stakeholders – the indigenous operators, local contractors, as well as the International Oil Companies (IOCs) , you know, have more interactions and engagements, and this exercise will actually make the Board see the areas that still needs to be addressed. I see this as a great opportunity for Nigerians.
How would you rate women participation in the Nigerian oil and gas industry then and now?
We have come a very long way. When I went to IFE in 1979, in my set we were about 30 in the class and there were 3 girls, 3 girls to 27 boys. However in the workplace, the ratio has improved, we do not have the 9:1 anymore, so in that case I would say we have done well. Recently, I was in Awka for the NAPE mini-conference and the proportion was about 50:50,
so I think we have come a long way. But of course, the sky is the limit, there’s room for improvement and you know that the guys are not going to sit and wait for us to overtake them, they will also strive to balance that 50-50, 45: 55, 49:61, that kind of ratio is a good place to be, but where I see more room for women to grow is in the corporate suite. I think SNEPCo has already blazed the trail by naming Elohor Aiboni as the first female chief executive. There are still more opportunities for other organizations to follow suit. There are more opportunities for women to be directors as well, I know that in my company we’ve always had female directors, they just haven’t been geoscientists; that in itself is an opportunity. We’ve had a female ministers of petroleum and there’s still room to have more.
We have an organization called WIGE (Women In Geosciences and Engineering), which also organises programmes to encourage the girl-child.
That’s a good analysis. So what’s the Nigeria of your dream?
Nigeria is a great nation with great potentials. Yes we do need to play catchup on some things and there’s a lot of room for improvement. I am a proud Nigerian and a strong believer in this great nation. I believe that with all of us working together as one, we will get to that same destination of the land that everyone feels valued and everyone knows that they have something to contribute and they are doing so.
Any last words? Do you have something else you want to add?
My last words will be that I am optimistic that the oil and gas industry in Nigeria has a bright future ahead of it with the correct enablement from the government. The PIA is a good start, the energy bank will be another great step and we just look have to look inwards and realise that we are also a huge market, a market of over 200 million people is not a small market, what if we start buying and consuming what we produce, I believe that we will go a long way as a nation.