The LNG industry has become increasingly diverse in the past 20 years. But it must not rest on its laurels and still has progress to make, says Tolu Longe, production support manager at Nigeria’s NLNG and 2020’s Vanguard winner in ExxonMobil’s Power Play awards.
Longe has been involved in the LNG industry since 1998, after studies that took her from Nigeria via London to Western Australia’s Curtin University. The Vanguard award recognises a male or female professional who displays outstanding leadership. Longe played a key part in the development of NLNG’s debottlenecking and the NLNG Train 7 project that finally achieved FID in December 2019. Her current role puts her at the heart of Train 7’s construction phase.
Congratulations on your award. The Vanguard category is all about inspiring others, does that make it particularly special for you?
Longe: The award is definitely very special to me. I believe that every individual can be an inspiration to someone else. It only takes the right person and the right platform for the stories to be told. Granted, people are blessed with specific gifts and talents that can lead to greatness, but they lie latent in some people. And it is a beautiful thing that our gifts and talents are diverse.
However, to be an inspiration is a responsibility that must not be taken lightly. As others have paved the way for us to enjoy many opportunities today, we too must strive to create opportunities for others that they may bypass much of the pain that we endured along the way. This is why the Vanguard award is particularly special to me.
In addition, as a Nigerian living in Nigeria, I feel great about the award because it portrays the fact that good things also come out of Nigeria, and indeed Africa as a whole. I am convinced that I can work with phenomenal women like Mervin Azeta, the Rising Star award winner, to shine a positive light on Africa, using the amazing Power Play platform.
To every young lady or woman who might be wondering if it is possible to make a positive change, I say to you, “Yes, it is!”. I hope to use the next year to help publicise the possibilities that exist in this energy industry, particularly in LNG. We all need to participate in the creation of the more environmentally friendly world that we want. And if we fail, we will deny many people the opportunity to maximally utilise their talents and gifts.
You have been in the LNG industry for over 20 years now. How have you seen it evolve in that time?
Longe: I have seen several changes in the last 20 years, including Nigeria evolving from just an oil-producing country to become the fifth-largest LNG exporter in the world. In the same time, the US has become an exporter of LNG, from its previous role as an importer. Qatar, in just over 20 years, has transformed from zero shipments in 1997 to a 77mn t/yr LNG exporter, with phenomenal GDP growth as a result.
On the market front, long-term contracts are disappearing, and it is once again becoming the buyers’ market, with much shorter contract durations. I have also seen cleaner gas move towards becoming the preferred energy source, while oil is starting to take a back seat.
Does it feel more diverse now compared to the late 1990s, and what have been the positive impacts of any changes?
Longe: The industry does indeed feel a bit more diverse now, even though I concede that we still have a long way to go. On a personal note, I have seen a significant increase in diversity in the industry. Once upon a time, I used to be the only woman in the room; today, there is often a sizeable percentage of women. But we still have room for further improvement.
The impacts have generally been largely positive. I am thinking, for example of the reputational impact greater diversity has brought. All over the world, there has been a clamour for inclusion and diversity, and for LNG to be left out would mean risking considerable damage to its reputation and acceptability to a broader audience.
So, embracing diversity has improved the reputation of the industry at large, and specifically for the companies that most consciously practise it. What is more, diversity and inclusion together permit the broadest employment competition, and that allows us to find the best fit possible for any job.
Is it fair to say that Nigeria in particular has been relatively successful in supporting local talent into senior roles?
Longe: Yes, Nigeria has come a long way. In the last 20 years, we have seen the introduction of the Nigerian Content Act. It is legislation that aims to increase the involvement of local content and talent in the country’s oil and gas industry, and it has been very successful, particularly in the gas subsector.
It has engendered tremendous human capacity development. If you look at NLNG as a case study, you will note that it has a 100pc Nigerian management team today and 95pc of all staff are also Nigerian. So, I can safely say we are relatively successful in supporting local talent development for senior roles.
What does the evolution of an initiative such as Power Play say about where the industry finds itself?
Longe: There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, it is a great initiative that helps to bring the necessary changes relating to diversity in the industry. On the other hand, it highlights the fact that a lot still needs to change. I dream of a day when issues such as gender, diversity and inclusion are no longer topical because the world has surmounted them for good. The people of the world would focus simply on merit and not let colour, race, creed, religion or gender darken their judgement. I dream of a day when humans do humane things in unity.
What would be your message to anyone considering a career in LNG?
Longe: I would say, “Go for it with passion!” As you know, of the viable fuels available to humankind today, LNG is one of the cleaner fuels, and the industry is doing a lot to make it even greener and cleaner.
And with the coming of the digital transformation age, there is a lot more innovation currently in the pipeline. The sector promises to be even more exciting in the coming years as the LNG industry continues to work on retraining and re-equipping itself.
It is exciting to know that one’s work makes a great difference in the lives of the people that use LNG to heat and power their homes, and is equally important to industries that use LNG to power their factories and offices. You are assured of a very exciting time in the industry. You will be proud that you are making a difference to the environment and to our world.
Do you see a coming ‘golden age’ for gas and LNG?
Longe: Life itself is uncertain. Industries go through periods of boom and bust, and the LNG industry is no exception. Might the industry have already witnessed its peak? That is a difficult assertion to make, as what might seem to be a peak today may pale in comparison to major milestones, achievements and changes in the next 10-30 years.
A golden age for gas speaks largely to the narrative of gas being a transition fuel and its potential to help usher in a low-carbon future. It was expected to follow a pattern of an increase in gas production, partly as a result of the US shale revolution, consequential downward pressure on prices, and thus steady demand growth accompanied by increased trading activity. But the last number of months have shown it may not be that simple.
Given recent oil and gas price volatility and the uncertainty of what a post-Covid world looks like, the future outlook for gas can only be described as a developing story. The response of major demand centres—the US, the EU, with a renewables push supported by the recent adoption of its Green Deal, and OECD Asia—to the long-term challenge of meeting their energy requirements will be key to the evolution of the global gas market in the coming years.
But as the world’s demographics—in particular with regard to attitudes to energy and the climate challenge—change and demand for power grows, either due to increased electrification or improved energy access in the developing world, relatively cheap gas can strategically position to fill any supply gap. Thus, gas prices being lower for longer improves the probability of gas gaining market share in the energy mix as we move towards a more carbon-neutral world.
So, have we already experienced gas’ golden age? I do not think so; the best days for gas are yet to come.