“Not only had India..set up her own machinery for oil exploration and exploitation… an efficient oil commission had been built where a large number of bright young men and women had been trained and they were doing good work,” said Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, on ONGC in 1959. Since then ONGC has come a long way. The leaders who built ONGC brick by brick and the stalwarts who are leading the organization today, they all have demonstrated extraordinary grit and determination.
As interesting the narrative is on ONGC’s growth so are the stories of people who have made this organization stronger than ever. Today, in our Stories that Inspire series, we have with us, Mr. Manoharan Hari, the Former Chief General Manager at ONGC Videsh Limited.
For almost three decades, Mr. Manoharan has served as the General Manager at ONGC, before he took up the role of Chief General Manager at ONGC Videsh Limited. An alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology (Madras), Mr. Manoharan has over 35 years of experience in the oil and gas industry. With a strong background and expertise in Production Engineering, he is presently a Mentor and Consultant at Petro Wisdom.
In an exclusive conversation with Energy Dais, Mr. Manoharan shares his eventful journey in oil and gas and gives us an inside perspective of what it feels like working with Maharatna ONGC, the largest crude oil and natural gas company in India.
Stories that Inspire: Your Journey with ONGC
What motivated you to join the Oil & Gas Industry?
When I finished my graduation from IIT, Madras in 1983, there were abundant job opportunities. That was the time of Shining India and public sector enterprises were rising. No wonder I had about 35-36 offers from the PSUs, perhaps 3-4 companies didn’t like me.
Since I was from a middle-class family, job security was my top priority. I decided to go for a PSU job. Now, the question is why ONGC?
ONGC had just discovered the Mumbai high and it was expected that this oil will boost India’s economy to greater heights. The oil jobs were expected to offer new challenges, new learnings. So I decided to join ONGC.
A growing organization offers you numerous career opportunities. You can aspire to be it’s CEO one-day but I was very naive then to aspire for these heights. A good job, a good salary and working with a star company were the main priorities. And then once in the job, the everyday challenges were more inspiring than a dream career.
You have been with ONGC for almost 3 decades. How do you look back at your journey in the top energy company of India?
The journey had been more than satisfying. The technical challenges and freedom you enjoy at ONGC are unparalleled. Adding to it, I was part of wonderful work culture. At ONGC, when you work, you work as a team. Unless the drilling and production teams, geoscientists, work together, you achieve nothing.
The buddy scheme actually help you to achieve, rather it dictates your own safety and security; because many operations are really very risky and demanding.
Everyday is a new learning. I always believe that if someone claims to be knowing more than 20 % of Oil field intelligence, he is not being truthful.
Of course, in the initial days there were more physical jobs, less automation. The computers and modern day software were almost not there. Those were the days of registers and records, where everything was noted down manually.
At the time when I joined ONGC, qualified engineers in bulk had joined. Most of us did not know much about oil field operations and some of us felt lost in the offshore environment.
But when I look back at my time in ONGC, I have a lot to cherish for a lifetime.
Can you enlighten us about the transition in the industry over the years? Your observation on changes in technology, workforce trends, innovation, and so on.
In terms of technology, equipment, manpower, systems, and procedures, the oil and gas industry has come a long way.
As I said, the 80s were the starting point. The companies that were operating onshore had to find ways and means to explore, drill, construct platforms, mobilize equipment, resources, consumables, operate and produce from the just discovered offshore. Of course the best in class equipment, technology and systems available then were mobilized. The manpower then were more experienced, than properly educated. Oil jobs are anyway learned on the job.
The then Management at ONGC had decided to recruit qualified engineers on mass scale. Petroleum Engineering was not being taught anywhere else except ISM, so the recruits were from all disciplines, all universities, all regions. There was some opposition to this move but then everyone recognized the need of the hour.
In that sense, ONGC was and continues to be a big university. Many who had just done schooling retire as Superintending and Chief Engineers.
Looking back, I realize that the improvements in equipment and systems have been very consistent. ONGC has always looked for the best in class at all times.
Floater rigs/ Drillships came-in for drilling deep-sea wells. Ultra-deep wells have been drilled successfully. MWD, LWD is common now. From simple resistivity type of Logs common then, now we have USIT, RST, PLT and many more. Subsea completions are the norm now. ROVs are being used for laying and inspection of pipelines on the sea bed. Top drive rigs are used for better efficiency and enhanced safety. Strict QHSE systems are in place; most of the installations are certified under 9000;14000; 18000 ISO standards. HSE departments at every location report to the highest management. Incidences of Blowouts and Fires are almost gone. Real-time data, Virtual corporates, Topic-based workshops, easy access to top management are the norm now. The wells and unmanned platforms are monitored and managed remotely.
Wells with 3000-4000 BOPD were being tested and produced in the 90s. But then the pressures and flow have reduced, and wells are being produced artificially now. Lift systems like Gas lift, SRP, ESP, PCP, dual lifts are the needs now. Heavy oils are being produced with the addition of thermal energy. Wells having very high H2S and CO2 require special care, material, and processes. Wells with sand incursion needs special completion. Tight formations require hydro frac. Of course hydro frac is still largely unregulated in India, but there are restrictions. In the 80s, a huge volume of associated Natural Gas used to be flared away; now every drop is being monetized for economical and environmental reasons. There is all-round growth and prosperity.
Tell us an interesting and unique aspect of the industry.
Every day is a new day in ONGC; new learnings, new experiences; new challenges, new opportunities.
With the production cost almost being the same or more, these days the additional challenge is the ever-changing (declining) prices. Low rates help greatly a country like India but for the industry, it is a challenge. They limit new investments, new technologies, and new development plans. But the country continues to expect more. It’s a challenge, but then interesting.
The unique aspect is that it is an industry requiring heavy investment and the geological uncertainties do spring surprises.
A complete project with 1000 crore investment can hardly give you anything in return. Simultaneously a wild well can give you lead worth 1000s of crores worth Oil.
If you had to suggest improvement in a particular vertical of the industry, which one would that be?
ONGC is a conglomerate now – Upstream, Downstream, Refineries, and Marketing.
I will limit my discussion to the core E&P business and the vertical would be Reservoir Health, the lifeline of the whole Industry. For instance, ADNOC ensures that the reservoir pressure remains exactly the same that was 40 years before and of course, production too remains the same. Similarly, an integrated data bank, that captures every action and data ensures that we monitor and intervene very professionally. These two aspects require more attention and care.
How does your industry experience affect your life today?
“Work is a never-ending process; always leave office on time”; this is a famous quote by Dr. Abdul Kalam.
But unfortunately, this doesn’t happen mostly in ONGC.
Whether on-duty or off-duty, you stand connected to your work. After all in E&P business, the middle and above level executives can not afford to miss the touch even for short durations. It’s a different matter that you enjoy the responsibility and a sense of belonging to a specific activity. The job rotation and location change ensures that you grow professionally well and understand different cultures.
But the work pressure affects your health, your friend circle is limited. You talk Oil even to your family. Unfortunately, ONGC is one organization which doesn’t have the much-needed vacation facility, even now.
A defining moment in your career or a moment of inspiration.
I wish to share two defining moments.
One when we were posted in GNPOC, Sudan. During that time, Sudan was under tremendous pressure, having lost most oil to South Sudan and the operations were being directly monitored by the Oil Minister. He used to ensure that the Indian team gets a standing ovation for the technical expertise, practical approach and dedication we show.
Secondly, when I had an opportunity to work with a heavy oil producer in Latin America, I had to explain how the leader in Heavy Oil production has been wrong on many counts for many years. Of course, the points were well taken and corrections initiated.
ONGC makes you the “Jack of all trades” as you learn new things and progress with the company. Not just one particular area but you learn to master many aspects with time.
Tell us about some of the most inspiring people you have met in the industry.
The father of the Indian oil industry, Col. S.P.Wahi and the indomitable Manager, Mr. Subhir Raha are the two most inspiring people, we had met in the Industry. Of course the later leaders too had/ have some individual strengths and contributions.
Col. S.P.Wahi ensured that the new oil found at Mumbai high was quickly monetized for the economic benefit of the nation. He ensured the quick absorption of qualified youngsters in great numbers so that technologies are understood, appreciated and implemented quickly. The transformation was done quietly, quickly and efficiently. ONGC achieving greater heights was the result of his vision and determination.
The other is, of course, Mr. Subhir Raha. He brought in a quantum change in the workings. “No Asset (Well/ Installation) will wait for any facility (Rig/machine) and no facility will wait for any resource”– very common looking statement, but then it brought a complete turn-around in the workings. Asset-based management was put in place. Every Asset became SBU, responsible and accountable individually. Think tanks, war rooms, Conferences were made the norm. ONGC shares hit the roof; ONGC became Number One Company in India as per Market capitalization. People were re-designated with higher positions. He was not looking for percentage growth/ gain. He said talk in terms of “how many times”. What a vision?. Unfortunately, he couldn’t carry along his people, nor he could manage his bosses. His term was cut short. But even today, he is remembered for the transformation, he brought in.
What would you like to say to the young people keen on joining the industry?
Oil industry jobs are great. A lot of opportunities. Challenging environment. Good money; a good life. You need to be disciplined and a ready learner in the ever-changing technology front.
It’s equally important now to understand that the availability of young qualified Engineers has greatly increased, thereby causing over-supply in a shrinking job market. In a limited demand-over supply market, obviously it’s becoming difficult for the Freshers. It only means that you are not going to be offered your dream job on gold platter any more (we were lucky then). You need to start low, learn the ropes and then grow-up gradually. The best obviously will always shine; luck too helps. As is said, if you are in the right place at the right time with the right people, anyone can reach to the skies.
My advice to the freshers would be to keep adding relevant knowledge. I am especially using the word “Knowledge” because I find my young friends spending time, energy and money on peripheral courses, Training, and Certificates. You need to decide the vocation you would like vis-a-vis job market and keep adding relevant knowledge. The courses and certificates for drillers would be different than people aspiring to be Petroleum/ Reservoir Engineers. It’s unfortunate that you lack proper mentoring as of now. But then, have a good network of peers, who can help and guide.
(This is an excerpt from an exclusive interview with Mr. Manoharan Hari and Energy Dais reserves all rights of publication.)