I landed with my family in Bandar Seri Begawan at the beginning of 1991. I was coming from Gabon, where the Elf Group had its biggest operational oil production subsidiaries at that time. The challenge in Brunei was very different: I had to be ready to work on a very intense exploration and appraisal phase with a small, but very devoted team.
When I arrived, discoveries on Maharaja Lela and Jamalulam followed each other. The appraisal phase consisted of testing exploration wells and checking to see if there was enough pressure and volume to make them economically viable.
It was a very uncertain but exciting stage. We did not know if it was going to turn into production. An important step was the “declaration of commerciality”. We told the Government to get prepared for possible production. The cake layer structures of the field contained oil and gas levels. Our first goal was to start producing oil levels with a “FPSO” (Floating Production Storage and Offloading) to generate revenue while we worked on the development of the gas ones, a more technical and complicated process. We had to live very intense moments while the suspense was very high. “Are we going to be able to manage developing this oil field with the hope of producing viable gas levels in the long run?” That was what it was all about. It was fascinating! Together with our local partner, Jasra, we had intense discussions with the Government and also with Shell and Petronas (for the panel that is straddling Brunei and Malaysia). Shell Malaysia already worked on the field that we were exploring and our relationship was constructive. By coincidence, the Shell General Manager from 1992 had also been previously posted in Gabon and we already knew each other. For the first time, people from the Elf headquarters in Paris came to visit this potentially viable project in South East Asia. The discussions progressed and I remember seeing the flare being ignited during positive flow tests. It was impressive and we were quite optimistic.
Unfortunately, in 1993, hopes were dashed because the appraisal of several wells did not confirm discoveries in sufficient quantities to be economically viable. We decided to stop this exploration phase. The disappointment was very deep but this is all a part of the oil and gas business story!
However, from a personal point of view, my family and I had a great time in Brunei. I remember that we had excellent relationships with local people, both Malay and Chinese. Our expat group was a small one at that time, but we did a lot of activities together among them squash and golf games. In 1992, we took part in the 25th Jubilee of His Majesty in Bandar. For our young French children, we settled them in a small school inside the extended office on Jalan Sultan which had been prepared for the development phase: there were a dozen kids sharing one single classroom! After six months, it was decided that the kids should attend and integrate into the only International School at that time. I have memories for a lifetime, like canoe jungle trips and river rides in Brunei and Sarawak. After Bandar, Elf assigned me to manage our US holding company in New York City: I left a “primary rain forest” to join a “concrete” one in Manhattan.