William Rees, T.D. Williamson: There can be no shortcuts to success

TDW is nearing its 100th anniversary, in 2020, a spectacular performance for any organization. Also, the company has now a 10 years long presence in the Romanian market, an achievement to be celebrated soon with an event organized in Bucharest by CIS GAZ, the exclusive distributor of their products in Romania. We talked with Mr. William Rees, Director Marketing & Communications with T.D. Williamson, about their business, and also about the perspectives of the Romanian Oil & Gas industry.

Before taking on your current position, you were in charge of TDW’ sales & operations across Europe. Based on this experience, please give us a short overview of the European oil and gas market, with a few points on what is specific to each of the Central, Northern & Southern Europe regions.

During my five years at the helm of TDW businesses in Europe, I witnessed a trend toward regional blocks, rather confounding my expectation for a federation of states: I saw North European countries tending to side together and distance themselves from events in the South – on a more positive note, I saw Central European countries enhancing co-operation across their neighborhood, in many cases seeking to include West Ukraine.

Overall, in our oil & gas industry, this resistance to further integration led to the rise of stronger regional alliances & bilateral co-operation which often favored domestic service provision: notably in the German/Dutch speaking areas and certain Slavic states, who each seek their own provincial centers of excellence.

Regarding the oil & gas pipeline industry, TSO’s in North Europe continue to try and differentiate by driving versatility into their systems – this required a lot of in-house/outsourced collaboration to achieve, with TSO’s working mainly with multi-nationals. The North Europe DSO and HPI sectors continue to require a nimbler approach necessitating provincial service-center to fulfil their needs – as one heads further South & East the geographical reach of each service-center diminishes – requiring a flotilla of distributors & channel to satisfy local needs.

Also in Central & Southern Europe, many TSO’s seek a more tailored turnkey approach, with general protocols that reflect their state-run origins. This market also requires local-language, currency & commercial interface – so, while the desire for global best practice is clear, it is important to combine this with the convenience & comfort that only local fulfilment can provide. The Distribution & HPI sectors have been largely unserved by TDW, though there is a critical-mass of activity that could ensure good utilization of an appropriate workforce.

Regarding the Pipeline Installed-base, there are some exciting dynamics – the legacy installed base in Ukraine will require significant modification over the next 5 years – likely funded by EBRD money. The North-South corridor construction continues in Poland with the 1,000 mm campaign, this could draw from a Baltic line in addition to the LNG terminal. Closer to home, other stimulating examples of Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) projects include “our” interconnectors linking gas networks in Romania, Bulgaria, Austria and Hungary.

Romania was one of the first countries in the world to extract oil and gas. What are the most significant projects T.D. Williamson completed in Romania?

Over our 10 years of collaboration with CIS GAZ, TDW has been engaged in numerous projects throughout Romania – many reflecting your country’s pioneering spirit to prove and propagate proprietary technology such as advanced isolation & repair, integrated pigging and pipeline integrity solutions. All were significant in their own way, but I am particularly proud of the way that TDW collaborated with a number of international & Romanian companies in order to support the development of a Pipeline Integrity Management System (PIMS) deployed to oversee the gathering assets of OMV Petrom. Once established, with critical-lines identified, we then helped to liberate some “difficult to pig” lines – once they were piggable, we could therefore assure better flow of product through these lines and also enable subsequent in-line inspection: by conducting post-inspection evaluation of the inspection data, OMV Petrom could then determine the best course of action to safeguard the condition of this asset for the rest of its intended life.

Ironically, it was probably one of the smallest projects we have undertaken – the roles that other partners had to play dwarfed ours – but TDW’s technology & know-how proved to be the catalyst in many stages – something I was proud to see, especially when the approach was systematically adopted and lends potential to be replicated by neighboring Upstream operators. The network of partners was complex, but the vision and tenacity of OMV Petrom proved unite and drive us all.

Romania had a strong development in the decades after the World War 2, followed by many decades of little to none investments in repairs or new developments. Nowadays, there are two main players in the Upstream sector, and few dozens of smaller operators, the TSO (Transgaz) and two major gas distribution companies. For ten years now in Romania, what are the major opportunities you see for TDW here?

It is true that the oil & gas pipelines of Romania were neglected for decades after their initial expansion, but the resourcefulness and enterprising spirit of many players here kept things moving. The international pipeline community is strong, so it was not surprising to see Romania’s TSO and several DSO’s accelerate to global standards once liberalization
arrived. Naturally, pipelines age, so I see similar opportunities for TDW in the TSO & DSO sector of Romania as I do elsewhere in Europe and beyond – as gasification continues, TDW will continue to help operators keep product within their pipelines, even when such pipelines need to be modified, pigged or inspected. Such modifications will become more commonplace with the onset of CEF projects mentioned above. In the upstream sector I see the potential for the more widespread application of PIMS, which will identify and schedule integrity works to assure flow and ensure gathering system efficiency for their intended life – exciting developments, requiring a systematic approach and strong collaboration across the customer-contractor spectrum! Of course, gathering is no longer exclusively an onshore activity, but we will discuss this later.

Romania seems closer than ever to the start of large scale offshore operations in the Black Sea. Is this also an opportunity for TDW, based on your product portfolio?

Since inauguration in 1920, TDW has been serving oil & gas pipeline operators around the world to suit their needs – so, when our customers went offshore, we went with them to support them. Our first subsea hot-tapping operations started over 50 years ago and much of our pigging fleet & accessories are particularly suited to the harsh offshore environs. However, it is probably our in-line isolation technology that is most synonymous with the offshore pipeline sector – not only is SmartPlug® deployed to isolation pipelines on platforms and the seabed, but we also provide flood-prevention tools that are critical during the subsea lay of new lines. Our SMARTLAY™ technology can be deployed during construction to ensure that a wet-buckle does not flood the line – not only does this offer the chance to save on an expensive compressor-spread during the construction phase, it could potential liberalize the market for deep-water pipe-lay vessels. During deep-water lays, a flooded-line could potentially drag a smaller vessel to the bottom of the sea – this has traditionally meant that only the largest vessels could be deployed on such projects. By preventing the line flooding with water, our SMARTLAY™ system could therefore open-up the pipelaying market to smaller vessels than would traditionally operate. These are exciting opportunities, but of course the construction phase is only one part of the pipeline’s lifecycle – the impact of expanded Romanian-sector Black Sea operations on the pipeline dynamic of Europe for many years to come is what causes me to have confidence in TDW’s future here.

TDW is nearing to its 100th anniversary, in 2020, a spectacular performance for a family owned business – for any organization, in fact! What is the secret for such a longevity – how does the company balance tradition with innovation and flexibility?

That’s a great question – and it is a tough balance! On one hand, our customers require that we help them to move the needle and improve their asset condition by bringing innovative solutions to their door. On the other hand, they want the peace-of-mind to know that such innovation has been tried-and-tested elsewhere. Above all, they want to be able to rely on TDW to say what they will do, then do what they said.

These demands seem paradoxical at times, but TDW’s long-term approach helps – we were formed at the outset of this industry and have journeyed with our customers: there can be no short-cuts to success. Winston Churchill once said that “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” I believe this philosophy fits well with the culture of TDW – we seek and embrace the frank admission of failure wherever we encounter it, knowing that both we and our industry can learn from these. In having a global reach, we can invariably link operators whose experience compliments one-another and thereby help one avoid failure by drawing on the experience of the other.

Perhaps our empathy with “Pipeliners” in the Oil & Gas pipeline community helps, also. We know that people depend on Pipeliners because they depend on pipelines — they rely on consistent and safe delivery of product to meet their goals. Through challenging and ever-changing times, a Pipeliner’s mission is to keep product in the pipeline, ensure uptime and stay ahead of the game. Each dollar spent is mission critical.

Pipeliners are trusted to know their asset and confront threats to their mission. With so many unknowns, this is no easy task. It requires experience and continuous improvement.

TDW equips Pipeliners to perform. Whether they need to know their asset better, ensure the most efficient flow, or maximize versatility while minimizing risk, when Pipeliners partner with us they can be counted on to deliver. We’ve got their back with industry-leading solutions, a wealth of experience and a passion for pipelines

Get it right, our Pipeline partners don’t just stay ahead of the game — they change the game. They prove that they know how to get more from pipelines, safely and reliably: more uptime, more throughput, more versatility – in short, more return on investment. Pipeliners can put your trust in us because we know people depend on them – for the life of their Pipeline.

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This interview firstly appeared in the printed edition of energynomics.ro Magazine, issued in September 2018.

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