AGIP Oil Ecuador Block 10 field is located in the Amazonians in Ecuador. The Camp has an average production average of 19,000 bopd. Main Facilities include Villano A&B platforms, flow line, CPF, secondary pipeline, Sarayacu Pump Station and Baeza Terminal.
Q. Which are the main objectives and the activities of the HSE-Q department?
A. All main objectives and activities somehow refer to studies of environmental impacts and environmental management plans. Some examples of the activities we are carrying out are annual programs for the environmental monitoring, abandonment plans, evaluation of legal compliances, operational plans of solids waste handling and oil spill contingency plans.
We carry out the environmental impacts studies since the beginning of the project, even before environmental national laws existed in Ecuador (environmental regulations exist since 2001). The good advance is now allowing Agip Oil Ecuador to fully comply with all the environmental requirements requested by the national authorities. Environmental plans include daily monitoring activities made for gathering all necessary data.
Finally, the HSE-Q department manages the relations with the government with regard to the management of the environment protection activities.
The relations with the communities regarding environmental issues, are followed by a the "Technical Environmental Committee" (CTA, comité técnico ambiental), made up of representatives of the indigenous organizations, Petroecuador and Eni which guarantees that operations are carried out in respect of the environmental management plan. The Committee meets several times a year, undertaking "on-site" inspections and responding to specific requests from the local communities.
Q. What is your background and how come you arrived to work in the Villano project?
A. I have a geotechnical background; geo-technique is a practical application of geology to civil engineering works. It includes everything that involves earth sciences for applying to engineering activities. In areas like Ecuador geotechnical conditions are very critical and must be carefully evaluated before starting operations.
This is how I approached the Villano project in 1997: I was contacted by an American consulting group which asked me to work for the Villano project design and engineering areas. Thus, I started to work at the Villano project in the very early stage, since its feasibility studies, before all the operations started.
Q. How did you move from a fully technical position as geotechnical expert to HSE manager?
A. At the beginning of the project I dealt with the technical drawings (Hernan was the one designing the artificial small lake in CPF!) because that was my role, everything regarding land was of my interest.
The lands of the Oriente are very critical, the studies related to lands are, as direct consequence, very complex. After the early stages I was also involved in the construction process of the CPF and Villano platforms. Afterwards, we started to design the secondary pipe line which was planned to be constructed in an extremely complex geological zone, in very dangerous conditions for constructions that could be put in serious danger by landslides; I dealt with the selection of routes for the pipelines.
Following the construction of the pipeline there was the need of someone who knew the region, able to supervise the pipeline and to manage operations. In fact, it was necessary to avoid pipeline breakages due to landslides, mitigate earthquakes’ impacts or the ones of other geological phenomena (quite frequent in the region).
I remember very well when in 2000 there has been a landslide impacting the flow line. Thanks to the very good engineering design and construction the pipe bent but did not broke. This event warned the project team over the risk of future incidents.
The second event (when Nicola Salmaso was the MD) impacted the secondary flow line, in the valve 12. Some road works were being carried out and these works caused a serious landslide and we worked for two months in order to stabilize the zone and to avoid break of the pipe line.
In both cases operations did not stop during recovering works. An important fact to be considered is that oil projects usually dispose of many resources: in emergencies is possible to mobilize all needed machines available in a country if necessary.
Today we have a landslide prevention program which has been studied since 2002.
Having always been involved in operation activities since the beginning of the Villano Project, I’ve always been concerned about potential damages to the environment and working hard to put in place all measures as to reduce possibilities of incidents occurrence.
The past experience dealing with pipelines emergencies brought me in a position to be a well skilled technician regarding to pipelines and environmental issues. When in 2003 the HSE manager, Francisco Vacas, was asked to move to Kazakhstan, I’ve been recommended for replacing that position. As said above, my background was very technical and I decided to get (later on) a master’s in HSE management. I also needed to improve my planning skills and I am still trying to learn in everyday’s work!
The invisible pipeline
Villano B looked much different during the construction phase. It was a very complex construction project including piloting the heavy-lift helicopters to build up tanks.
This is the Arbol Sagrado (the holy tree, a very old ceibo) In the beginning of the project ARCO and other companies in charge of the construction works were supposed to fall a tree, but at the end the tree hadn’t been touched.
Even the rig had to be heli-transportable.
A mono-rail system (a rail-based transportation system based on a single rail, which acts as its sole support and its guideway) has been used to transport food and to transport the pipes (see also JJ interview in section B eni’s people). As a matter of fact, the pipe line has been built by hand! The construction works have been very quick: it only took 6 months to build the pipeline. There were a lot of workers involved in the operations!
The process was all managed by the people working on the field; even the cranes, which allowed moving and lifting the pipes, were manual! The helicopters were leaving pipes in proper areas (one each 6Km) and the pipes were then transported with the mono-rail where needed.
The project decided to use “walking excavators‘ Kaiser (excavadoras caminantes) to limit the project impacts on the Amazon forest. The Right of Way (ROW) was limited to 4/5 meters. Actually, I believe that it would also be a great place where to bring tourists and stimulate local businesses! Agip Oil Ecuador does not deal with this, since it’s not its sector, but some government representatives might consider the opportunity. It’s a unique environment!
These were all the machineries which have been used to complete the invisible pipeline.
Q. In Ecuador there have been many protests and disputes over Texaco and Chevron projects and their unwillingness to consider the impacts of their activities on the environment. What do you think about this approach?
A. I do not intend to defend oil companies, but what I can affirm is that these companies you mentioned started to operate in Ecuador around mid 50’s. During those years in time there wasn’t an idea about environmental (and sustainability) standards. There was only the business with its goals. They did not think, in my opinion, that nature in a future could suffer from their activities. It wasn’t bad faith but was ignorance, a lack of awareness on the issues. Moreover, there wasn’t any law for environmental protection.
On the Villano project several situations have occurred in which Agip Oil Ecuador has received accusations of polluting the region, poison or even killing indigenous people. Sometimes these are only allegations based on nothing. The company applies very high standards. There is certain person who’s asked to do this work and they do it. One needs to be extremely careful in analyzing data.
People who do not know the sector, who work to protect the environment or human rights can be deceived from some information that can circulate on the impacts of the oil activities. Sometimes they do not know the reality of facts, but you can understand and see that things can be different than what media can show.
Agip Oil Ecuador do not have a press/media department and cannot reply to these allegations, but it would really be necessary to respond to those accusations using the same methods.
Q. Mrs. Sabina Ratti, sustainability Vice-President, says that it’d be great if the sustainability department will disappear because that day all the processes will incorporate a responsible way of doing business.
A. I totally agree with Mrs. Ratti. It’s not been always like this. In fact it’s only 3 or 4 years that these issues are discussed (internally).
You can notice the importance of these issues even during annual meetings: Eni CEO now opens conferences talking about health and safety and only after referring to operations and financial results. This makes you understand the importance of the topics in the practice. In many instances, even in the Villano project, there has been some resistance on these issues. It’s a matter of culture and mentality.