Matuzalem Sukete, General Manager, AES.
Our shareholders had invested in waste management projects in other parts of the world and saw the opportunity in Angola for better environmental protection initiatives. Tools and means were needed to enable the industry to operate in a sustainable manner. The owners had initially invested when there was no legal obligation for oil companies to bring hazardous waste resulting from drilling activities ashore. Despite this, they went ahead and started the business. AES started at the SONILS base on a small plot of 6,000 square meters, as well as a landfill in Cacuaco, about 18 kilometers from our office.
AES now has an area of over 35,000 square meters. We started with an incinerator imported from Europe which met the European Union standards for the incineration of hazardous materials, directive 2000/76/EC, which is the strictest international regulation for this activity and has become a important standard in Angola. AES wanted to set the bar as high as possible to show that it is possible to operate at such a high level in Angola.
How much has AES invested in technical infrastructure and technologies?
AES has brought technology to Angola that allows drilling activities to take place in a sustainable manner, providing a solution for the treatment of drill cuttings, which is done through our thermal desorption processes. Investors were so optimistic that Angola and AES became the largest concentration of thermal desorption capacity in the world. In 2015/16, we had a total installed processing capacity of 120,000 tons per year. It is a demonstration of the commitment and the will of our investors and shareholders towards Angola. To date, AES has invested approximately $150 million in infrastructure to ensure enough capacity to serve Angola as the largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. AES wants to provide Angola with all the necessary resources and tools to carry out activities in the energy sector in a sustainable way – the only possible way to reverse all these changes in the environment.
Our technologies are not readily available on the shelves, which has forced AES to invest heavily in human capital development. Today, we have a significant number of Angolan nationals with the skills to manage AES equipment operations without outside support. Our organization has more than 95% local Angolan content.
How did AES manage to achieve such a high percentage of local content?
It all starts with a will and a mission. AES is much more than just a company – it is strongly committed to the sustainability of the petroleum industry and the environment. AES emphasizes the acquisition of skills by our employees. This had many benefits, both for the employees themselves and for the company. Today, AES employs around 400 people in Angola, split between the Luanda and Soyo operations. In 2020, AES faced the critical impact of COVID-19, where the resulting travel restrictions around the world posed a major challenge to the business continuity of various organizations. AES relied on the Angolan workforce during this difficult stage to ensure the continuity of its operations and to provide all the necessary support to the oil and gas sector. It was the result of proper training and capacity building, which took years to create, but ultimately paid off.
What is the rationale for the waste management facilities located at both the SONILS Integrated Logistics Base in Luanda and the Kwanda Base in Soyo?
Being inside the supply base, like SONILS and Kwanda, allows AES to be closer to offshore operations. One of the biggest benefits is that it reduces the liability associated with transporting hazardous waste. As hazardous waste arriving in the industrial base from offshore facilities, being handled and processed by AES within the confines of the industrial base, the hazardous potential is reduced due to the treatment process which involves a lot of segregation and different types of heat treatment , which makes it safer to transport it through community areas. In addition, the treatment accorded to waste leads to a significant reduction in the volume of waste that must be transported to landfill through public roads in communities.
AES started operating the Kwanda base in Soyo in 2015 because many major players in Angola’s oil sector operated from the northern blocks. It is a logistical and financial challenge for them to ship all their waste to SONILS in Luanda. AES wanted to have operations closer to the actors to make it easier for them and contribute to the reduction of oil production costs and better services for these companies. This was the main driver for AES to open the second facility there. AES helps to contribute socially by employing people in Soyo, which is a very important region of the country regarding oil production. AES wants to contribute with a positive social impact, not only through employment, but also through other community projects.
What makes AES more competitive in its industry by implementing international environmental best practices and standards?
AES is certified in two critical standards for our industry, namely ISO: 14001 for environmental standards and ISO: 45001 for workplace safety. This helps AES to continuously improve its management system to establish better standards and integration with stakeholders, as well as better processes and procedures. The result brings AES to a level that our customers can rely on when it comes to overall quality of services. AES has been asked to provide this service outside of Angola on several occasions. There are partners in the industry who have operations in different countries and they have developed such confidence in AES systems that they want AES to transfer this technology and this reputation to other countries where they can benefit from our services. In terms of reputation, contribution and reliability, AES has become a source of pride for us and for the country as a whole. AES has set the example by operating with an Angolan quality label.
Can you give an example of how innovative waste management technologies can reduce costs and improve operator efficiency?
One of the biggest benefits of thermal desorption is that it helps reduce the cost of oil. It does this because our thermal desorption process recovers base oil from contaminated mud or drill cuttings, in its original quality. This recovered base oil is returned to the mud company via the operators to produce new drilling mud, helping them save costs by reducing the cost of importing the new synthetic oil. One of our principles is the “3 Rs”: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. When AES receives waste, the number one priority is to separate the part of the waste that can be recycled or reused in circular economy initiatives. Reduced waste of all recovered products can be sent to the appropriate AES certified landfill that meets the standard to receive this type of waste.
What are the main challenges in maintaining a portfolio of high-level customers, including TotalEnergies, Eni, Chevron and ExxonMobil, among other leading IOCs?
A major challenge for the oil and gas industry worldwide is the management of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) waste. The oil and gas sector produces a lot of it. NORM waste is a major challenge worldwide, as there is not yet a commonly accepted solution, and Angola is no exception to this challenge. In Angola, our regulation for the treatment of NORM waste only allows the storage of waste. Last year, AES launched an initiative to reduce the volume of NORM waste. We are working on a project to decontaminate a batch of NORM contaminated pipes for one of the major players. This is a great advantage for our client, as it reduces the liability of storing huge volumes of pipes contaminated with this waste without knowing what to do with it. AES began the decontamination process and engaged with affected stakeholders. The regulatory authority in Angola audited our processes, tested the results and approved the result as very effective.
What is AES’ vision for its operations in Angola?
Our vision is to continue to be a leader in waste management for this sector. We will achieve this by constantly seeking innovative solutions. Our industry is dynamic and we must adapt to it. The energy transition is an unprecedented experience for most oil and gas players, but AES will be there in this process. We have discussed several challenges with various clients to understand their vision, needs and expectations so that AES can adapt to the new reality and be ready to better support and contribute as needs arise. . After all, AES provides a much-needed environmental solution not only in Angola, but also around the world.