Trinidad and Tobago is a small nation that, as BPTT's Regional President (RP) Norman Christie likes to say, "punches way above its weight."
While he couldn't have predicted being "hand-picked" by BP Group CEO Bob Dudley to become joint head of the CEO's office in London – a post which Christie assumes come April 1 – serving as head of BPTT for the past five years, "has been really, really useful preparation" for his next role within the global energy company.
"The Trinidad business is really a microcosm of some of the key issues impacting the oil and gas industry globally. We are in the gas business and gas is viewed as kind of a transition fuel. We have to pay attention to things like climate change. We have to manage multiple stakeholders and so, when you start dealing with similar issues at the global level, I'd say my time as (regional president) has been really, really useful preparation."
Expanding on this point during his March 9 exit interview with Business Day, Christie cited the October 2017 appointment of Energy Minister Franklin Khan as president of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) as a prime example of this. TT will host GECF's 20th Ministerial Meeting on November 14 of this year.
"(Khan's appointment) gives you an indication of a small state punching way above its weight, because even though it doesn't have the resources of a Qatar or an Algeria, TT really deals with the same big global issues. So, operating in the RP role, you had to expose yourself and address those global issues."
Seated in his office on the fourth floor of BPTT's head office on Victoria Ave, Port of Spain, Norm – as he's affectionately referred to by colleagues and friends alike – was his usual frank yet diplomatic self as he spoke about his biggest accomplishments, most memorable moments, regrets and his promotion.
Switching hats to that of vice-chairman of the Energy Chamber of TT, Christie also talked about what he thinks TT needs to do to successfully address its energy sector labour issues.
"My biggest accomplishment as RP was definitely people development. It's been great to see the growth in people development at BPTT. We have, really, the highest calibre people and when you see people getting closer to their potential, that's very rewarding because as people develop and do their best, then the company does well and the country does well. Our leadership team is a class act and we have world class leaders in all our functions. So I'd put that as one of the signature accomplishments," Christie said with a smile.
BP's safety culture is reflected in BPTT's safety performance, which Christie noted, "has been really good." Saying he was very proud of that, Christie told Business Day he was also "proud that people are developing what we call 'a duty of care'."
The sanctioning and successful implementation of projects such as Juniper and the Trinidad Onshore Compression project (TROC) as well as Angelin being sanctioned, all based on BPTT's "significant investment" in seismic data was another area of accomplishment for Christie.
"Some of the key projects that we've got onstream for the benefit of the country, those started all the way back from a strategic decision we made around seismic back in 2011. That data gave us confidence in the sub-surface, below the ground, if you will. Having below the ground confidence and above the ground people confidence has resulted in some of the projects that people now hear of, like Juniper and TROC, and Angelin sanctioned."
More recently, on June 2, 2017 BPTT announced two significant gas discoveries with the Savannah and Macadamia exploration wells, which had unlocked approximately two trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas in place to underpin new developments in these areas.
"Last year we did another one– ocean bottom node. We've used the latest seismic technology to improve our confidence, especially in the Columbus Basin but we've used seismic as well, along with BHP, in the deep water. Seismic is important for an exploration and production company, obviously, because the resources are where we start and the more confident in that you are, the more confident in the prospects for the business."
Christie also cited the June 2017 execution of a new gas sales contract with the National Gas Company of TT (NGC) – which made paved the way for sanctioning of Angelin – and "exploration discoveries".
Fourth but certainly far from last on Christie's book are BPTT's corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, particularly in Mayaro, namely, the Brighter Prospects A' Level Grant and Tertiary Level Scholarship Award Programme (Brighter Prospects) and the Mayaro Initiative for Private Enterprise Development (MIPED).
Brighter Prospects was established in 2003, under which 540 scholarships have been distributed in a community of 1,900 households. Scholars have 96 per cent programme completion rate with graduates on average taking six months to find a job. Those same scholars have contributed hundreds of hours of volunteer work in the community.
MIPED has seen approximately 4,000 loans, valued at TT$80 million, distributed in a community of 14,000. Thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses were created as a result.
A mix of the personal and professional topped Christie's most memorable moments during his time with BPTT.
"From 2005 to 2010 I worked in CFO-type (chief financial officer) roles and then from 2010, in the RP role when (I succeeded) Robert Riley. One bittersweet moment during that time was the older kids leaving for college. Memorable projects for me would be TROC because of the level of collaboration and complexity involved, and Juniper because it was so needed to alleviate the gas shortfall."
"In layman's terms, TROC provided more production when we were short of gas, without having to drill new wells. Basically, it allowed us to reduce the pressure in the system, so wells that couldn't produce before because the pressure was too high, could now produce."
Christie added that several upstream players had to come onboard because "you're basically reducing the pressure for a lot of people's infrastructure, not just yours and because the system is so integrated, you can't say I'm reducing the pressure just on mine."
In addition, "because we put the compressor – to drop the pressure – in Atlantic's facility, you start impacting Atlantic's shareholders. So because of the complexity of that project and the level of collaboration required to get it done, the (successful implementation) of TROC was memorable."
"In the CSR sphere, clearly the BP Renegades' Panorama win this year, their tenth title, was memorable. It's a beautiful way to exit," Christie shared.
In early 2015, protests by some of employees of the La Brea-based Trinidad Offshore Fabricators Company (TOFCO) contributed to delays in Juniper's fabrication. This led BPTT to split the fabrication in two – TOFCO completed the topside while the jacket was built by Gulf Island Fabrication in Houston, Texas.
Fast forward two years and wanting to ensure timelines were adhered to on the next platform project – Angelin – in April 2017, BPTT announced that the entire Angelin platform would be fabricated at McDermott's fabrication yard in Altamira, Mexico. As of this January, the platform was "well ahead of schedule."
Christie told Business Day, "The fact that we didn't get to do the Angelin fabrication in-country, that's a big regret for me."
Asked if BPTT partially awarded the Angelin contract to McDermott to send a message to those in TT who hadn't heeded prior advice about the importance of a stable labour environment, Christie's immediate response was, "No."
"Here's the interesting dilemma. The number of platforms we've done in La Brea goes all the way back to Cannonball in 2005/2006. So I've gotten to know people of La Brea and 90-something per cent of them are fantastic. They want to work, they do good work and then what you have is a small percentage, to be totally honest, so I don't like to use the characterisation of 'Let's show them'."
Christie made it clear that giving McDermott the Angelin contract "wasn't a reprimand. We did what we had to do. We're hoping, however, that those who have been disruptive realise it doesn't do the country any good and that it's better that we work in a cooperative and collaborative fashion to get this thing done."
The Energy Minister held his promised La Brea town hall meeting at Vessigny Secondary School, Vessigny on February 28. There, residents heard from Khan, La Brea MP Nicole Olivierre and Pt Fortin MP Edmund Dillon, about the opportunities which may come their way if companies can be assured that regular protests and work stoppages are a thing of the past.
On January 30, BPTT facilitated a visit to McDermott's Altamira fabrication yard. The aim of the visit was to share lessons learned from the fabrication of Angelin with TT stakeholders. Speaking with the media before the trip, Khan said, "La Brea has every reason to benefit from platform fabrication (so) the community now must put pressure on the people who tend to stymie that initiative.”
Khan also said as government seeks to attract more investment, local companies must become more reliable and competitive, especially on labour-related issues and delivery time lines.
Business Day asked Christie, who attended the meeting, for his assessment of the event.
"I thought Minister Khan did an excellent job explaining the benefits that La Brea could have from getting fabrication back. While it was good that they started to discuss the issue, you can't leave it there. I think the dialogue within the community needs to continue because the competition isn't inside, it's outside. You need a community that comes together and is prepared to do not only what any investor would want but what the country would want."
Regarding the take-away from the Mexico visit, Christie explained the idea wasn't to teach anyone that there are other options – "they already knew that"– but rather to get a first-hand look at "what good really looks like."
"It's an extremely well-run plant, from multiple perspectives. Their productivity was high, they're unionised but they've never had a shutdown on a project, not one. Their safety statistics are superb, and you could tell their pride of ownership for the items that they're building. This came through loud and clear."
"So (Mexico) was a learning exercise for the entire delegation, to be honest. I think the value of it, again, is in realising what the competition does and does well because there will be things that TOFCO and La Brea do well, but you always want to, but you always want to learn from others and improve on what you're doing," Christie advised.
Energy Sector Labour
Speaking as Energy Chamber vice-chairman, Christie said productivity levels are one area in which TT needs to excel if local fabrication yards, for example, are to successfully compete with the Altamiras of the world.
"TT is competing in a global economy and especially when you're producing gas, the cost of supply is extremely important. One of the things that contributes to this is the productivity of labour. That is a huge component."
"The relationship between the different stakeholders, including labour, is extremely important. Take the McDermott facility at Altamira as an example. It's not that they don't have a union but the way that they work together is very different from what we're experiencing currently in TT. Collaboration is also extremely important. We have to have negotiations, we understand that. People need to seek their interests but at the end of the day, they need to come together for the interests of the country. That's the reason, for me, why collaboration is key."
Christie warned, "If you keep fighting, you're basically destroying yourself. I don't think everybody's hearing how competitive this industry is. It's extremely competitive."
"You have people with a large quantum of gas and their focus is always on how to make their operations more profitable and efficient today than the day before. This doesn't mean workers aren't taken care of. Actually, what you're doing is you're expanding the pie, so people actually have more of a pie to share in."
Promotion to Office of BP Group CEO
Upon learning of Christie's promotion, a few people wondered if it was equivalent to being put out to pasture. Laughing this off, the BPTT head said his "motivation to come out to work has always been to be able to have a broad impact on people and the next job affords me the opportunity to do more of that."
Business Day asked how Christie would describe himself as a leader. "I lead because I care about people," was his short but heartfelt reply.
Given the opportunity to say farewell, staff Business Day spoke with all said the same thing, that "Norm really impacts people in a positive way."
Focusing on what his new role as joint head of the CEO's office in London will entail, Business Day asked Christie how it differs from his current one.
"Managing the affairs of the CEO, basically means anything that comes at the CEO, myself and the other person handle it. So, where my focus at BPTT was upstream, in that role, the exposure is to upstream, downstream, renewables et cetera."
Typically, the people chosen for this role spend two years in the job before being assigned to a new post within the BP Group.
Advice for His Successor
"Enjoy it. Really, this has been an enjoyable experience. Not without some tough times and challenges but as an overall experience, it's been really enjoyable because I've seen the impact of our work on people. We've been able to contribute to schools, hospitals, roads, communities. When you're able to have a positive impact, that, to me, is really, really enjoyable and I would say to (my successor), enjoy it."
Christie also would like the new BPTT RP to enjoy the opportunity to work with "a remarkable leadership team and remarkable people in the organisation."
"Most of us aspire, in our careers, to work with top calibre people. So, enjoy the delivery for the country and for the company and enjoy the experience of interactions with some of the best professionals that you can work with throughout BP worldwide," Christie said with a smile.