Oil should be a blessing. It creates jobs and puts food on the table for millions of people. It fuels the power that drives industrial growth and development to move countries beyond oil and gas into a sustainable future.
That is how AAPG member Adedoja Ojelabi, the first female president of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), views the hydrocarbons she has been working to discover since beginning her career with Chevron Nigeria 24 years ago.
But it isn’t always the case.
“It is known to also fuel corruption,” she said. “Where institutions are weak and there is little or no oversight and corrupt practices are not being punished, then it is downhill from there.”
Born and educated in Nigeria, the geologist has used her first year as leader of NAPE – an affiliate of AAPG and the largest single body of petroleum geologists in Africa – to start chipping away at the corruption, which can cause the industry to shy away from a continent that desperately needs the resources and opportunities provided by oil and gas.
“Many African countries have this problem now,” she explained. “Rather than investing in schools, hospitals, industries, roads, infrastructure and diversifying the economy, corrupt politicians take what is meant for the commonwealth and fritter it away.”
A top item on Ojelabi’s to-do list as NAPE president was to organize a workshop on an issue common in many of Nigeria’s oil fields: fluid metering and accounting.
With full support from stakeholders, NAPE made an official recommendation to the Ministry for Petroleum Resources that fiscalization should continue to be performed at pipeline terminals rather than at individual wellheads, as proposed by some government bodies. NAPE also recommended that government regulators make industry data more accessible by putting it online and in real time. The organization requested more reliable surveillance of pipelines through modern technology and upgrades of metering systems as well.
“Adedoja is a woman of passion,” said AAPG member Lere Olopade, a friend and colleague. “Being the first female president of the association, Doja has demonstrated that what a man can do, a woman can do better in the running of affairs of NAPE.”
Ojelabi is not one to flaunt her historical status at NAPE, but she does share words of advice to those striving to break barriers and move ahead.
“I have learned not to sweat the small stuff,” she said. “Just do your best, give 100 percent and let your work speak for itself.
“There will be glass ceilings for both men and women,” she continued. “As long as you stay up there you will either break it one day, or you will be close enough to squeeze through when someone else breaks it.
“As the first female president of NAPE,” she added, “I think I broke through one myself.”
Paying It Forward
In addition to her bold move of taking on corruption in Nigeria, Ojelabi is practically hailed for her support of African students wanting to study the sciences and enter the industry.
Prior to her involvement in the AAPG’s Imperial Barrel Award (IBA) program in the Africa Region, little was known about the program’s efforts to help geoscience graduate students win scholarships by participating in a prospective basin evaluation competition. Just four student teams participated in the program in 2008.
After Ojelabi became adviser three years later, that number grew to 15 and included students from northern, southern and western African universities.
“The yearly event has become the most veritable link between the oil and gas industry and the academia all over Africa,” said Layi Fatona, an industry colleague of Ojelabi and past president of NAPE.
The increase in participation prompted Ojelabi to help raise more than $176,000 in IBA sponsorships and $1.8 million in Petrel software donations to universities. She also helped initiate an IBA mentorship program by pairing dozens of industry professionals and technical coaches with IBA teams across the continent to help students learn problem-solving skills, teamwork, efficiency and work ethics.
Her mentoring and fund-raising efforts are now considered a “best practice” and have been adopted by other AAPG regions.
A modest Ojelabi merely sees herself as a link.
“I don’t really see it as mentoring – I look at it more as connecting people,” she said. “There are so many talented, hard-working young people out there. Some just need a little direction, others a little encouragement so they do not give up when the going gets tough.”
She volunteers as a mentor and awards an annual scholarship to the top, graduating female student of the geology department at the University of Jos in Nigeria, her alma mater, through the NAPE University Assistance Program.
Furthermore, she has facilitated Chevron Nigeria’s sponsorship to ship books and journals donated to 10 Nigerian universities by the AAPG Publications Pipeline, which aims to collect geoscience books and journals from those who no longer need them and forward the resources to overseas universities and libraries.
Ojelabo also has assisted Chevron in donating 30 state-of-the-art computer workstations and other hardware to Nigerian geosciences departments.
Inspired by the Earth
Ojelabi recalled when she was a student, struggling to figure out what she wanted to be.
“I wanted to get out there and move mountains. Geology was appealing and did not have too many women. I thought the world could do with more women geologists,” she said.
“I love to sit by the window on a plane during the day and just look down, seeing the Earth in plain view,” she continued. “Seeing the rivers meander or a landslide or a waterfall, and I start to think about the end product, whether there will be erosion or sedimentation. Where will the water go? I love being a geologist because you have to think in many dimensions and use all parts of the brain.”
There is no doubt that every part of Ojelabi’s mind has been tapped in her career.
Starting out as a seismic interpreter, she has worked as a processing geophysicist, an operations and well-site geologist, a regional geologist/sequence stratigrapher, and now is manger of reservoir management organizational capability. In her current position, she is responsible for technical training and mentorship programs for all earth scientists and petroleum engineers at Chevron Nigeria.
She also has authored or co-authored several award-winning technical papers throughout her career.
And importantly, Ojelabi has witnessed firsthand how technology has changed the industry, and embraces the advancements while reminiscing about the good ol’ days.
“It was one of the best times of my life to ‘QC’ seismic data as it was coming off the field. I was a greenhorn, but I was lucky that I had a great mentor,” she said of AAPG member Spencer Quam, a former supervisor of seismic acquisition and processing. “I like that he threw me in the deep end, having to make the call about out-processing workflow, filters, deconvolution, spectral whitening, all that.”
Two female mentors, Solange Bensimon, a former supervisor of oil mining leases, and AAPG member Iyabo Ogun, her predecessor, taught her how to check her work and be thorough, and how to stay organized and plan ahead, she added.
Recalling her structural mapping days, Ojelabi said she used paper seismic lines to interpret 2-D and 3-D seismic data.
“We had only one workstation and there was a time schedule to use it,” she said. “Later, the company bought Seisline and Sun Workstations, and then bam! Computers were everywhere.
“Companies are finding huge amounts of oil, so that is good,” she said. “But I still miss those days.”
While she remains nostalgic about the past, Ojelabi may not fully realize how she is helping to change the industry in Nigeria for generations to come.
In 2012, she received the AAPG Distinguished Service Award for her outstanding leadership and dedicated service to the Association and its Africa Region. In 2010 she was elected AAPG vice president of the Africa Region and also served as a PROWESS (Professional Women in Earth Sciences) panelist at the international convention in Calgary that same year.
She also has hosted a “Women in Geosciences” roundtable for female geoscientists in Nigeria.
Ojelabi recognizes she works in a male-dominated field, but stresses that women have the ability to fit in when they leverage their strengths and adapt to working in environments that may not always be ideal.
“Women are great multi-taskers – we juggle family, work, friends, parents and parents-in-law,” explained the married mother of three. “I have not always felt valued by more senior colleagues, particularly at the beginning. But I think with time I have proven that I have the ability to do many things and do them well. There have been times that I felt that my work was better than I got acknowledgment for, but over time I have realized that rating myself is not very objective, and I leave that for other people to do.”
So far, her reviews have been stellar. To date, she has hosted 28 technical programs on behalf of NAPE and organized its 2013 annual conference, which was so replete with content and high-caliber speakers it continues to be discussed today.
“She organized perhaps the best annual international conference the association has ever had in its almost 40-year history,” said Femi Esan, vice president of the AAPG Africa Region and Ojelabi’s longtime colleague.
This year’s conference, which will feature Africa’s leading industrialists Aliko Dangote and Tony Elumelu, is expected to top the last.
Ojelabi also has worked to digitize NAPE’s communications to reach members and non-members alike. She has overseen the building of a dedicated website for NAPE’s annual conference, and has made NAPE’s technical presentations, newsletters and bulletins available for downloading.
It’s difficult to imagine how Ojelabi balances work and family, much less squeeze in a hobby or two. Going to the theater is one of her favorite pastimes – no doubt a love she inherited from her uncle, Oyin Adejobi, a famous stage actor who later made his way into African television.
“He was brilliant, even though he had a disability and could only walk with the help of a cane, more like a large pole actually,” Ojelabi said. “He was musically gifted and would compose the most moving songs.
“To an extent, all of us in the family have some musical and stage talent,” she added. “We’ve just been too lazy to pursue those interests.”
In Ojelabi’s case, laziness might not be the right word. Her passion for geology simply eclipses all else.