At the beginning of Total in Indonesia
Freshly graduated from the National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) of Lyon and the Institute of Business Administration of Rennes, I was hired by the CFP (Compagnie Française des Pétroles) on April 1, 1969 after responding to a small advertisement published in Le Figaro. It was a time when the economy was booming and businesses were hiring around the clock. The CFP was conducting campaigns in Australia after recently unsuccessfully completing operations in Senegal, Libya and France. It was preparing to launch oil exploration drilling campaigns in Angola, Madagascar and the British North Sea. It also had large interests in the Middle East, the share of the Iraq Petroleum Company attributed to France after the First World War. It is therefore in the world of oil drilling that I "fell" eventhought I had not "done" the French Institute of Oil (IFP – Institut Français du Pétrole) and my knowledge of this industry was limited to taking gas in a service station! I had never seen - either near or far - a drill rig of my life, a device I will soon learn to be called RIG. The Central Directorate of Exploration Production-Drilling Division that I joined was managed by André Brun, a formidable and innovative man whose first quality was to get the best of each. He had created such an atmosphere that none of the staff counted his hours and that our long days of office sometimes ended with a team dinner in town. A great mountaineer and diver, André Brun often emphasized the need for safe work and respect for the environment in future operations. After intensive training of several stays with three basic training courses in Hassi-Messaoud in Algeria, then as junior engineer on a platform in the North Sea near Aberdeen interspersed with courses at the French Institute of Oil, it is in Indonesia that I was assigned to live my first "big mission" as an oil engineer. The CFP opened a branch there in 1968, taking over 50% of Japanese JAPEX Company's interests in Makassar Strait and obtaining two onshore permits in central Sumatra.
I intervened there from mid-1970 to the end of 1974, first with missions from France, then with my young wife from July 1971. At the announcement of my assignment, my first reflex was to locate precisely this country of which I knew nothing. I discovered that it was made up of thousands of islands stretching thousands of miles from Thailand to northern Australia. Indonesia emerged from a severe political crisis following the departure in 1967 of Soekarno, the father of independence. At the time, it was a disparate country although a common language began to emerge. It was above all a poor country where the material conditions of life were crude. Its faulty electrical network caused very long and frequent cuts. Means of communication were rudimentary or non-existent. Telephone communications with the outside world were random. I still remember land travel on roads or tracks in poor condition and sometimes chaotic flights in old DC3. In the beginning, for the supply of necessities, families had to go to Singapore ... including to buy meat! Hard to believe today ...
The nascent drilling department of the CFP thus gave me confidence - althrough without experience - for two exploration campaigns in the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. My first mission was to set the maps with a small geoscience team that had been conducting seismic reconnaissance operations for three years. Before settling definitely with my wife, I began by chain many field missions, trips back to France and missions in Louisiana (drilling in the bayous) and Colombia (helirig). Probably because of the evolution of the interests of the CFP in Algeria, the person in charge of drilling planned on this project, never finally came. De facto, I became responsible for piloting two drilling campaigns. One was at sea in the Makassar Strait off the Mahakam River east of Kalimantan (Borneo Island) where we were drilling from a floating platform. The other, on the ground, was near the cities of Jambi and Pekanbaru near the rivers Batang Hari and Batang Tebo on the island of Sumatra in the middle of flooded forests. In Sumatra, our operations were not rewarded because all our holes were dry (without result). Happily, it was different for the Mahakam permit. In 1972, we made the first major discovery of the CFP in Indonesia, after 5 dry wells; just 35 meters deep off the great delta of the Mahakam River, on a geological structure already drilled by JAPEX, the 6th and last well of our campaign, Békapaï 1A, was used to test oil. The reserves of the Bekapai field have been estimated at 30 million barrels. This discovery nullified the mocking nickname with which the English were affixed to us. For them, CFP meant "Can not find Petroleum"! It must be said that the last discovery of the Company went back to that of Hassi-Messaoud in Algeria in 1957.
Personally, this discovery remains one of my best professional memories. Bekapaï 1A is above all the starting point of Total's great adventure in Indonesia. The well began producing 5,000 barrels a day. It was only a beginning! In 1974, Total will update - the large Handil field rich of more than 100 million tons of hydrocarbons. It will produce more than 250,000 barrels a day. I had the chance to participate in the drilling of discoveries and appreciation of this field and two others before leaving Indonesia at the 3rd Handil well. This great adventure of Total in Indonesia lasted until ... 2017. After 50 years of success, the Group sold its activities in the Mahakam area and transferred its licenses to the national company Pertamina.
My first expatriation to a country that I did not know when I arrived was an experience of great wealth. I remember particularly the complicated drilling that we were doing in these huge, partly flooded forests of Sumatra. We were leaving in the footsteps of the geophysicists of the Compagnie Générale de Géophysique to better understand the lands that were waiting for us. Due to a lack of trails, we decided to complete Total's first helicopter drilling operation. During this huge logistical operation, all the drilling equipment as well as the housing cabins were helicopterloaded by batch of 2 tons in a precise order in clearings located on temporarily deforested hills. Hundreds of Indonesians were mobilized to saw the trees, move them. It was then necessary to assemble the hundreds of packages like a giant mechanic in difficult climatic conditions with special crawler cranes able to move in the mud. It was the realm of winches and pulls. All the drilling sites were then reforested with local species to erase the traces of our passage.
As a junior engineer - I was only 26 years old when I arrived - and propelled operations manager, this Indonesian experience remains a highlight. Even though I actively participated there in a dozen different drilling campaigns with 5 types of RIG, I did not just work! We were in a country of great beauty at a time when mass tourism did not exist. Between hiking around volcanoes and scuba diving expeditions in life-size aquariums, we take full advantage of this dream scenery and the kindness of the inhabitants.
To his operational managers, the CFP proposed to follow industrial diving courses (very supervised, I went up to 80 meters ... a few seconds) in order to make us understand what we could ask the divers. This experience gained in diving courses, I have largely used it during my hours of leisure to admire the sumptuous seabed. I also plunged with professionals on the Bekapai field to find that the divers' observations of efforts to release the silted legs of a self-elevating platform were false.
I pursued this first drill manager experience in Abu Dhabi by being seconded to the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company, then in Algeria before becoming Director of drilling operations in Paris. Very quickly, I understood that the drilling corresponded perfectly to my temperament. It offered a mix of field work, studies, high-tech innovations and men's management, including of course nationals who filled me.