At a meeting in Sana’a’s Movenpick hotel on this past Thursday, Yemen’s Minister of Oil was on hand to laud recent efforts by the Safer Exploration & Production Operations Company to train its employees in environmentally conscious methods and practices, part of larger, groundbreaking efforts by the company to conduct business in Yemen in an environmentally safe manner.
Stewart Brown, a Canadian environmental consultant at PGL Consultation Company, had just wrapped up a weeklong training course for Safer employees, a course designed to assist them in developing the company’s newly-introduced Environmental Management System.
Hisham Sharaf, Yemen’s Oil Minister, speaking after the meeting with Safer employees, said, “I congratulated them on holding this kind of training workshop – it’s very important. The stability and well-being of the environment is very important to us.”
Safer’s General Manager Mohammed Al-Haj enthusiastically explained that the training course – the first such course to be offered in Yemen – would “provide a solid example for companies in all sectors.” He added that a focus on the environment leads to “healthy people, higher production, and the cooperation of local communities.”
Abdul-Raqeeb Thabit, an Environmental Specialist for Safer, added, “When Safer adopted an environmental strategy, we did so because we felt we had to do it ourselves: this is our country, our company. We are a national company – we have to lead others.”
Safer’s comprehensive environmental program will feature an Environmental Management System, a waste management plan, an environment pollution plan, an environmental auditing procedure, a zero gas flaring project, an oil spill procedure, and an environmental monitoring project.
The weeklong training workshop, headed by Canadian Stewart Brown, reached a broad cross-section of Safer employees, 30 in all, from upper management to facility supervisors and environmental technicians. The training focused first on exposing employees to the Environmental Management System program and then on giving the employees the tools and knowledge with which to implement it.
Reflecting on the Safer employees he worked with, Brown said, “There was a desire at Safer to improve their environmental management. When I started out with the program six days ago, it was very evident, even in the first half hour, that the employees were very passionate about it; they had a lot of ideas, they identified areas in which they wanted to improve. I think that once there’s that desire in place, you’re going to have great success.”
While it may take some time for the impact of such training to be seen in individuals, QHSSE (Quality, Health, Safety, Security, and Environment) manager Hasan Al-Kohlani was eager to point out one example of upcoming changes at Safer.
Speaking about waste management, he said “You have to realize there are no facilities for recycling in Yemen. This is a big problem, as we are only an oil and gas company. This system intends to help by introducing everybody to about 22 procedures to deal with the types of waste that gas and oil businesses usually have. We’re also going to initiate a waste contractor opportunity for those who are able to meet the new standards. This is new. We’re going to have a qualified contractor to collect all our waste. We will be successful with this,” said Al-Kohlani.
Speaking about the drive behind such concerted efforts to take the environment into account, Al-Kohlani added, “This is our country and Safer is our own national company. This is why Safer decided to establish an environmental strategy, one which starts with the issuance of an Environmental Management System. This is the first step in getting our employees trained in, and implementing, the system.”
“When Safer became a national company at the end of 2005, management felt that we needed to create a system to deal with the environment. The first step in creating an environmental section took a while to be put into action; it was not an easy step because it requires a great deal of training for those employees who will be placed in the environmental section. In 2010, a third-party environmental specialist conducted an EIA study to create a baseline for dealing with environmental issues.
“One of the study’s recommendations was to create a system that could be applied acros the board with Safer’s operations. At this time, the Environmental Management System Manual was first made available – this past week’s training was the first of its kind for this system. This is how the environment became an essential part of the thinking – a different kind of thinking – of all employees at Safer.
Safer’s self-motivation in conceiving and implementing a comprehensive environmental strategy has caused some in the industry to scratch their heads.
“Foreign contractors from oil and gas companies that we worked with or beside looked at the lack of active regulations regarding the environment in Yemen and asked us at Safer ‘why would you want to involve yourself with these new programs?’ But this type of thinking stems from financial concerns.
“The fact is, the way we look at it is this: if we’re not going to lead in this, nobody else is going to do it. So Safer has taken the lead and initiated this environmental approach because we are a national company. We can be very helpful in creating future legislation and regulations for the gas and oil industry because we are drawing upon Canadian experience and expertise.
“We feel more responsible because it’s a national company. All the Yemeni people working for Safer think about the future of their company, feel pride in their work and in the communities they live in. We should create something for the nation itself – not just for private interests.”
At the same time, the knowledge and perspective that foreign experts such as Brown provide has been well-received. Speaking after the meeting on Thursday, Brown said, “They’ve requested that I come again and teach another batch of personnel. It’s through education that changes will be made.”
For Hisham Sharaf, a prosperous future for Yemen and Safer’s trajectory are effectively intertwined. “As much as the GCC initiative is important to Yemen, the economic front is important too. Safer is one of the pillars of Yemen’s economic front,” he said.
Reflecting on the past and looking towards Yemen’s future, he added, “Safer is a model for other companies. Safer has shown that it’s up to the challenge, because when they started in 2005, many people were not sure that the company would continue on. They showed that because of Safer, we will have enough oil for the next twenty years.”