Interview with Roberto Casula, Eni Senior Executive

We recently had a chance to interview Roberto Casula, Eni senior executive presently engaged in open innovation and corporate venture capital.  Casula was born in Cagliari, Italy in 1962. After graduating in mining engineering, he joined Eni in 1988 as a reservoir engineer.

Casula started working in Italian oil fields before moving to West Africa as Chief Development Engineer. In 1997, he returned to Milan as coordinator of business development for Africa and the Middle East.

After being the headquarters’ Project Technical Services Manager, Casula became Middle East Project Director on a large-scale gas project in 2001.

From 2004 to 2005, Roberto Casula held many managerial positions in Eni E&P including the role of CEO of EniMed SpA before being appointed Managing Director of Eni in Libya in 2005.

In July 2007, he became Senior Vice President of operational and business activities in sub-Saharan Africa, and on December 2011 he has been appointed as Executive Vice President of Eni E&P Division, thus extending his responsibilities to the whole of Africa and the Middle East, including the program for the development of the Mamba and Coral discoveries in Mozambique.

From June 2014 until September 2018, Roberto Casula was Eni Chief Development, Operations & Technology Officer.

Roberto Casula has also served as Chairman of the Board of Versalis SpA (Chemicals) from January 2017 to April 2018 and as Chairman of Italian Petroleum and Mining Industry Association from May 2016 to April 2018.

The oil and gas industry is facing a number of headwinds.  Environmental regulations, political uncertainty, weak energy demand as a result of a constriction of global economic activity as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic all represent formidable challenges. 

It is therefore both timely and instructive to speak to a seasoned industry executive like Roberto Casula, Eni senior executive, for a look back and a look forward.

How has the oil and gas industry changed over the past 30 years?

Let’s start from few numbers: when I joined Eni (formerly Agip) in 1988, the world oil production was about 59 million barrels per day, the natural gas production slightly less than 2,000 billion cubic meters, and the world’s total primary energy supply was slightly less than 8,500 million Tonne of oil equivalent or toe. 

Fossil fuels (i.e., including coal) accounted for 81% of energy sources. Today, crude oil production has almost reached 100 million barrels per day, natural gas production is double, the world’s total primary energy supply is about 14,000 million toe, and fossil fuels account for about 82% of energy sources. Oil and gas contribute almost two thirds.

In other words, the oil and gas industry has been able to support the energy needs of the world, particularly a dramatic consumption increase in Asia, by playing an evolving role throughout the past 30 years.

How is that possible?  

The answer is ‘technology’. During these 30 years, breakthrough technologies have significantly diversified the areas of our operations and the way we produce. 

I am referring to 3D seismic, powerful software and data centers, horizontal drilling, well stimulations, subsea equipment, etc. They all allowed the energy industry to access more resources by exploring and developing fields in frontier and challenging areas such as the ultra deep-sea waters or very tight reservoirs. This results in fighting the natural depletion of hydrocarbon production while adding more reserves to cover the increased demand. 

Another element of change is also related to the rise of National Oil Companies (NOCs). Over the past few decades, NOCs have steadily overtaken international oil companies (IOCs), and today, the production of the most important NOCs is well above that of even the largest IOCs. Furthermore, NOCs are now estimated to control over 85 percent of global oil reserves and much of the global oil and gas infrastructure. A significant volume of undiscovered reserves are located in countries where NOCs have direct and priority access.

Finally, as stakeholders increase their sustainability pressure, the industry is growing a significant environmental and social consciousness.

Where do you see the opportunities for growth in the industry in the next 5 years? 

They are no doubts that the present energy ecosystem is changing and industry players must adapt their business strategies to the future. 

Oil and gas industry and related businesses continue to be cyclical, while during the past decades, the influence of financial markets on the oil prices has been bigger, contributing to increased volatility.

To capture opportunities in this environment, it is imperative to increase the efficiency in the day-by-day operations as to lower breakeven and total costs of both development projects and operations and build a balanced presence in anticyclical businesses. 

However, the most significant opportunities are related to the present environmental concerns on CO2 emissions and air pollution. This will push the demand for natural gas both as an energy source and petrochemical feedstock. Natural gas is key as a bridge fuel in the energy transition period toward a low carbon energy future. 

Also, renewable sources will play a growing role with solar and wind power or biofuels more and more integrated in industry business plans.  The common element here is the need for further advancement in R&D activities and technology.

If we do not heed the warnings, we are not able to adapt and we just continue to hope in scenario changes without looking inside ourselves, we are running the risk that we will no longer be able to sustain growth in demand and impact on energy source diversification and security.

The discontinuities look likely to become part of the norm, and we must be prepared to deal with them. 

How is Eni positioned to support these opportunities?

At Eni, we started to change the way we did things several years ago, particularly in exploration: a strong belief in what we were doing, focusing on conventional resources, ran contrary to an industry belief that unconventional resources were the way forward, acquiring high-cost barrels in the belief that to grow you need strong M&A. 

We never wavered from the conviction that organic growth is not just possible; it is the most sustainable way. This has become evident with a number of discoveries in Congo, Angola, Mozambique, and Egypt.

Furthermore, by reshaping our operating model, we were able to achieve impressive time to markets while lowering the overall costs of development and operations.

Today our distinctive elements are: 

  • global presence and large portfolio of industrial assets that provide us with a large number of opportunities from both a geographical and a technological point of view;
  • The know-how in managing large scale projects in a number of different domains, from upstream, to downstream, to power generation;
  • Our excellence in Research & Development and our ability to timely deploy the best ideas and concepts;
  • Finally, a unique decarbonization plan whereby Eni is planning to reach zero carbon impact in 2030 from its upstream operations through efficiency, investments, and protection of forest areas.
Angela Scott-Briggs: Editor TechBullion.com | Interested in Innovations in Business, Finance, and Technology .
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