Apache North Sea

A culture of opportunity

Apache Corporation’s operation in the North Sea is currently achieving unrivalled levels of performance across operational efficiency and cost effectiveness, while maintaining a singular focus on safety. Currently the third-largest oil producer in the North Sea producing around 70,000 barrels equivalent a day, Apache is achieving greater than 90 per cent production-efficiency levels compared to a 65 per cent basin average. On top of this, it has one of the best safety records and is achieving a lifting cost that is approximately 45 per cent more economical than the North Sea norm. So how is Apache able to achieve this? Energy, Oil and Gas spoke to Projects Group Manager, Mark Richardson to find out.

“We have access to the same technology, tools and contractors that every operator in the North Sea has,” he begins. “The only differentiator is our leadership, our culture and our behaviours – basically, the way we do business.” The key to this culture is in the company’s people, and the way they approach opportunities. “Our adaptability and flexibility to understand the opportunities available is central to this culture,” Mark continues. “So, we encourage risk taking, not safety risk, but around commercial, contractual, technical, reservoir, subsurface and project opportunities, because where you take risk, there is often reward. We encourage personal initiative – we want people to use their competence and their capability to maximise what they can deliver, so we don’t constrain them with a system that doesn’t allow them to achieve excellence.

“With this comes the ability to make fast decisions and execute them and this is down to having people with the right attitude, aptitude and approach to doing business, plus the wish to take on accountability and responsibility. We then give them the authority and autonomy to make those decisions in the best interest of the company. You give someone a mission, a task, resources and boundaries and then they are allowed to go and deliver in the best way possible,” he continues. Additionally, with this autonomy in place, the company as a whole is able to flexibly respond to any new opportunities in the best way possible.

Apache North Sea is proving with its unprecedented results that it can be both efficient and effective within the industry with the right culture in place. One place it is clear to see how this culture thrives is in the ten attributes it looks for in its employees. These include: fire in the belly – to exhibit real passion and drive for success in the business; working managers, to lead by example and to make decisions with sound judgement and emotional maturity in a quick and effective way. “This is about making good, timely decisions based on facts, and if you don’t have all the facts available then you still have to make a decision because it’s such a dynamic environment,” explains Mark. Next is the ability to see the bigger picture and translate this understanding into actions; to focus on team accomplishments over personal gain and then to be an effective communicator both internally and externally. Responsibility features heavily in the list, as it is key to being decisive, invested and committed and to have responsible irreverence. “You have to be able to make tough decisions, take ownership and act like it’s your own company. We’re all shareholders here,” points out Mark. “Everybody can challenge anybody as well, that includes beliefs and ideas – new technologies are used, new areas are explored and conventional thinking is challenged.” This leads to the understanding that the best answers always win and the ability to listen to the company’s contractors who often know better at how to solve a problem. The final attribute is to be an ambassador for this culture and set of values for Apache – to be able to live by and demonstrate it on a day-to-day basis.

Implemented by a flat management structure, this culture is embedded deep within the company. Apache North Sea is therefore able to operate an extremely efficient programme with the relatively small office team of slightly more than 400 employees. This is clearly demonstrated not only in the company’s performance figures, but also in its current activity to continue developing opportunities despite a downturn in the industry. As Mark highlights: “Presently we’ve got two platform drill strings running in the Beryls and one in the Forties. Plus a heavy-duty jack-up rig at the Forties Alpha Satellite Platform (FASP) and two semi-subs drilling in the Beryl fields. One is doing exploration and appraisal work, the other development drilling.”

On top of this culture of performance is the company’s approach to safety. “We have a mantra: ‘safety, compliance, production’ – in that order; it is Apache’s primary responsibility to provide a safe working environment, but the vast majority of safety incidents are now down to human factors and we firmly believe safety to be a personal responsibility,” points our Mark. If someone has an issue, we don’t spend time overanalysing it; we solve it with a bias for action, rather than writing reports.” This attitude is made possible through continuous training and education within the company. “Even through the downturn, we’re not making anybody redundant; we’re still taking on apprentices, and we continue to focus on training and competence. We’re using this opportunity with additional workforce to enhance our maintenance and training, and to think long-term,” he adds.

Jim House, the former region vice president and managing director of Apache’s UK operations, has been summoned back to the company’s Houston headquarters for a new assignment after more than nine years in charge of Apache North Sea. “A lot of the company’s success has been down to his leadership and his commitment to embedding the Apache culture into the organisation,” says Mark. “He’s not only been great for the company, but also for the local industry working with Oil and Gas UK leading a group on production efficiency.” With changes at the very top as well, as the corporation has recently appointed a new CEO and CFO, the Apache North Sea region’s future is defined by the opportunities it can present and the operational performance it can deliver. “We are in a global competition for capital investment both internally and externally, so we need to highlight our growth opportunities in comparison to other opportunities around the globe,” Mark expresses. Not only will this be helped along by government tax incentives and improved investment opportunities in the North Sea, but will also be bolstered by the company’s exemplary culture. In a concluding point Mark ends optimistically: “There is a lot of doom and gloom in the industry at the moment, but there is a lot of value which can be unlocked given the right leadership, culture and behaviours and a bias for action.”

Apache North Sea

Services: US based oil and gas operator that owns Forties and Beryl fields

Issue 125 October 2015