Burrus – Chairman & CEO, Beicip-Franlab – France
The CEO of the oil and gas consultancy Beicip-Franlab gives insight into the company’s history and taste for foreign projects in remote areas.
Could you please describe Beicip-Franlab’s history to our audience?
Historically there were two separate companies, both created by IFP (now IFPEN) in the 1960s. Beicip was established as a consultant in exploration and in downstream / refining. Beicip helped countries like India or Indonesia design their oil and gas research centers. Franlab was created at the same time to provide reservoir services. Beicip and Franlab merged as a single company in the early 1990s. Today we have one central office in France, in Rueil-Malmaison, and affiliates spread across the world. IFPEN is our shareholder and we are managed like any independent company.
What role does research play in your activity?
We belong to a highly competitive sector, tighly associated with innovation and R&D. Our mother company IFPEN conducts fundamental and applied research. Our software solutions, such as petroleum system analysis, reservoir modeling and simulation, or our solutions in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) are constantly updated by this research, which is focussed on practical market needs. Beicip-Franlab is exposed to a large variety of practical exploration and reservoir development challenges all over the world, since our activity is truly international. We work closely with a large variety of oil and gas companies, of all types and sizes. This wide market exposure allows us, I believe, to anticipate market requirements, and thus to bridge the gap between research and applications and shorten time-to-market cycles. Our customers benefit from these synergies. Our commercial software offers both rigorous science and a lot of practical knowhow based on hands on consulting experience.
What is Beicip-Franlab’s core identity?
We have a passion for what we do, advising oil and gas companies with high value technical solutions. We love to solve practical challenges. We aggregate geology, geophysics, reservoir engineering, process engineering and we are effective in every discipline. Our staff values technical integrity, solidarity, curiosity, cultural openness. We are proud of our fully international recognition by all kinds of customers: giant or small NOC, majors and IOCs, independents, agencies, ministries etc. We like to work in a close manner with our customers: most of our staff is trilingual. Our model integrating consulting and software edition activities is designed to maximize value creation for our customers. Both our activities are renowned in the industry. We are perceived as a notable discipline integrator.
Are there other companies with a similar value proposition across the value chain?
As a consultant, we address a market with multiple actors. You have the consulting branches of giant service groups, with strong links with their operations (drilling, completion, logging, seismics etc). You also have smaller companies, which often specialize in providing individual staff resources, which is not our main mission. Our mission is to deliver exploration or reservoir development projects, in a timely and cost effective manner. We belong to a group of independent middle size companies, with best-in-class technical mastery. There are probably less than five such companies in the world. We are the most international of these companies, having only a very limited domestic market, unlike our colleagues from Alberta, Texas, or the North Sea. It is thus natural for us to work in Africa, the Middle East, North and Latin America, Russia or Asia. We are also one of the few companies that have managed to develop strong synergies between their consulting and software edition activities. We have no choice but to try to be agile technically, commercially and culturally.
How do you keep up to date with technological developments ?
A major source of innovation comes from our interaction with IFPEN researchers. For 20 years, we have been continuously innovating in areas such as petroleum generation / migration modeling, fractured reservoir modeling and simulation, reservoir simulation, etc. This cumulative knowledge and expertise as a research entity (IFPEN), as a consultant and as software solution editor (Beicip-Franlab) in key areas is precious. We carry out a lot of efforts to make sure that this knowledge capital continues accumulating whatever the evolution of individual experts or staff members, and continues be focused on ‘problem solving‘ issues. This allows us for example to currently bring to the market a new generation of basin modeling solutions accounting with unprecedented accuracy for complex structural evolution, a critical way to reduce exploration risk in difficult areas.
We have also developed original partnership with champions in their own disciplines when required by market. We envision for example a considerable development in the future in chemical EOR methods based on polymers / surfactants injection. In such projects, it is important to be capable to cooperate with chemical manufacturers in order to optimize the recovery rate. We have therefore developed a partnership with SOLVAY, a world class specialist of surfactant, with IFPEN, which has a unique experience with laboratory experiments on cores, and we cooperate with SNF, a leading polymer company for EOR application.
An important source of innovations comes from domain agility. Beicip-Franlab is for example recognized since a long time for its expertise with understanding naturally fractured oil and gas fields, an expertise than we had originally developed while studying production from giant carbonate fields in Middle East, then in Latin America. We are now applying this considerable knowledge to understand, model and predict in a very innovative way oil and gas production from hydraulically fractured non-conventional ‘reservoirs’ or shale. Analogies are there, differences too. It is exciting. This is made possible through tight interactions between consultants, software specialists, researchers and customers. Our customers are tightly associated with these developments. We value highly their ideas, experience, their understanding of needs, constraints and requirements.
Are these technological developments sought for abroad? Which areas are more prone to international expansion?
All our innovations are meant for international applications. For example, we have developed in the last five years a considerable experience with deep offshore and subsalt exploration. This is a typical multidisciplinary integration issue. We have helped our customers make major discoveries in West Africa, in subsalt offshore Brazil, more recently in the Gulf of Mexico (both US and Mexican sides). Based on this experience, we are now advising authorities of the Provinces of Nova Scotia and Labrador / New Foundland in Canada to understand the oil potential of their deep Atlantic margin, with innovative ideas. Our studies have contributed to trigger the current industy’s interest for this region as well as, for example the Levantine basin (East Mediterranean).
In mature areas the Middle East or West Siberia, our studies have helped our customers renew in a novel way their understanding of the exploration potential of stratigraphic traps, leading to the mapping of new prospects of considerable interest.
We have started chemical EOR studies four years ago, with small scale applications in European fields. Few years after, we are now positioned, jointly with our partners IFPEN and SOVAY, as a well-recognized actor in this area, in charge of major projects in the Middle East, in North Africa, in Latin America, in USA-Canada or in Asia.
All these techniques have a potential of growth because they address industry needs. We envision clearly a growth potential in giant markets like Middle East or Asia.
Beicip-Franlab participates in HSE studies. Are you helping you customers “mastering HSE risks” ?
As consultant and software editor, we help our customers evaluate some HSE risks associated with their operations. For example, we have developed original workflows to predict pore pressure before drilling using seismic data and basin modeling results. These studies have two objectives: reduce the risk associated with high overpressures and optimize the cost of drilling programs.
How do you communicate on your know how?
Sharing and working in close interaction with customers is a key. We integrate very frequently client staff in project teams. Such ‘on-the job training’ is very much appreciated. It is probably the best way to share know how. Another way to communicate our know how is to coach clients junior staff directly in their offices, or provide technical assistance services. We have good experience tailoring such ‘coaching’ or ‘on the job training’ programs along the projects we are carrying.
Can you tell us about your shale oil and gas activity and your perception on the debate around this issue in France ?
We have evaluated the potential of shale and tight reservoir resources around the world, and will continue, in areas like Algeria, Argentina, Europe (including in France before the decision to ban fracking), Mexico, Siberia, USA. We have developed original methods to quantify producible resources in shale and understand “sweet spots” distribution. We also currently develop new simulation tools for production from shale, an issue which is today very poorly understood.
Concerning the debate which is currently taking place in France like in other countries, both as professionals and citizens, we believe the debate is legitimate. I personally find that it would be reasonable to drill and test few wells under independent supervision to know if there is something to debate about. Without tests, no one can say if oil or gas potentially in place are producible. This approach is perfectly in line with the law which has been adopted in 2011.
What is your assessment of the current crisis?
This change of cycle is serious, associated with some long term causes. Some, not all, of our customers have reduced their E&P spending. They tend to delay most risky, capital intensive, short term projects. We see also many customers that want develop their activities with us. Most projects in which we are involved have strategic and long term significance for our customers, like better evaluating national oil and gas resources prior, or developing a soundly based strategy for EOR with optimal CAPEX / OPEX requirements. This requires sound technical assessment in which we can help. We also see that NOCs in regions like the Middle East or elsewhere are actually increasing their studies in order to prepare plans to develop their production, increase their market share or remediate inevitable future production decline. For all these reasons, technology and innovation are not less important, they are more important than a year ago.
How do you attract the most talented graduates?
We attract a lot of talented graduates by reputation, largely propagated by our own junior employees, whatever their nationality. Graduates see Beicip-Franlab as a superb company to work for, to develop a career, to learn a lot and quickly, in a stimulating environment. They like the diversity of the evolution possibilities we offer. The human size of the company is appealing to many. They know they will benefit from the innovation culture of the IFP Group.
As for us, we hire graduates with best-in-class academic background, with a good balance between technical talents, curiosity, communication skills and capacity to interact positively with customers in all kind of environments. Languages and extracurricular skills are thus important in our recruitment process.