The WGTL facility almost 85-90% complete
By Marcia Braveboy
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Understaffed, unskilled management, billions of dollars and a rookie in charge is the latest difficulty to hit financially challenged energy company World GTL Trinidad Ltd (WGTL), currently in receivership.
According to present and former employees of WGTL, Kevin Ollivierra has been given sole control over the multi-billion dollar gas to liquids (GTL) plant even though his resume shows he does not have the technical expertise needed to oversee such a complex operation. The plant is said to have been sitting for three years non-operational.
Reliable sources told Caribbean News Now that some engineers at the company who are more qualified to run the plant are livid about it. Two senior technicians who resigned from the company in the last two months want to know how someone who does not have the required technical and managerial expertise can be allowed to operate in such an area that requires specialised training and expertise.
Attempts to reach Ollivierra about his qualifications for the job proved fruitless. An automated voice message said either his phone was switched off or it was out of the service area.
The WGTL receiver and partner in accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Brian Hackett, would only say that Ollivierra is a member of the WGTL staff. When asked what his position is in the company, Hackett said he preferred not to comment on what position he holds.
"He is an employee, I prefer not to say... he is on contract like any other employee, I will not comment as to whether he has the technical expertise but he is not overseeing the company," Hackett claimed.
When asked who the person is responsible for overseeing the operations of WGTL at this time, Hackett said three persons are assigned. When asked for the names of these individuals, Hackett replied: "No need to say who they are."
This is the latest scandal to hit WGTL, with PwC presently before the courts
for alleged breach of its duties as receiver of the insolvent company.
In a statement on July 8 of this year, NiQuan Energy Trinidad disclosed that the high court met in an emergency session on Saturday, June 29, to hear an application by NiQuan for an injunction seeking to restrain WGTL and Hackett from actions that would breach the terms and conditions of what NiQuan said is “an existing exclusivity agreement”, including an agreement not to entertain any other discussions with any other potential competitors.
The application for the injunction also sought to restrain WGTL’s previous owner, the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (Petrotrin), “from interfering in the process or in any way influencing the actions of the receiver”.
In its filing, NiQuan alleged that PwC had on several occasions breached its exclusivity contract with NiQuan and has acted in bad faith by secretly soliciting other bids and selling certain of the assets under consideration. Accordingly, NiQuan filed for the injunction to enforce its rights under the exclusive process put in place by the receiver.
The matter will be heard in the Trinidad and Tobago high court on Wednesday September 4.
In this latest revelation, Ollivierra, whose employment was reportedly approved by PwC, is the centre of attraction, with allegedly unsuitable skills, gross ineptitude and confusion about who his employer is.
When Ollivierra was introduced to the potential buyers of WGTL, he described himself as the cleaner; then he said he was working for PwC; but he would later say he is working for Petrotrin’s chairman Lyndsay Gillette, raising doubt in the minds of the new investors about his status in the company.
However, when it was discovered that Ollivierra was taking home a salary of TT$30,000 (US$4,667) a month, it erased any suggestion that he is the cleaner at the plant.
Meanwhile, a series of email exchanges between members of the WGTL and Petrotrin management teams, which included Ollivierra, seems to confirm that Ollivierra has in fact been given control of WGTL and is running the company as a “material technician”, the position he was initially hired as.
Attempts to also reach Petrotrin personnel proved futile. A Sergeant Hosein, who answered the phone, said some of the staff were sent on vacation from Friday as Saturday, August 31, is a public holiday for the country's 51st independence anniversary.
Production supervisor Roger Wells resigned from the company to move on to greener pastures.
"A better job opportunity presented itself and I took it," Wells told Caribbean News Now.
He said he did not want to comment on the status of the company because it is caught up in arbitration and the courts.
A former senior technician with the company, Ronny Dipchansingh, who also resigned, said he signed a confidentiality agreement with the company and could not comment.
Why the WGTL plant is at risk
According to informed sources, there are likely to be serious repercussions for the sustainability of the plant under the present stresses that it faces, including diminished staff and deficient expertise. Two supervisors and one senior technician resigned in the last two months. With the resignations and in some cases dismissals of key staff members, only three technical staff members remain with the company at this time; two assistants working out of the materials department and one grass cutter. There are supposed to be at least ten persons manning the plant.
The Fischer Tropsch (FT) technology reactor, a process that converts carbon and hydrogen into long-chained hydrocarbons also known as FT wax
What all this means is that the plant will not be able to get the maintenance and service it needs to operate efficiently and it has been compromised because of this lack of attention. One of the former senior technicians told Caribbean News Now when the plant is compromised the equipment will deteriorate and will cost millions to return it to a state of readiness for the new buyer.
“All equipment must be maintained every three months; to achieve that you need staffing and an organized structure,” the technician said. The individual, who is a lot more qualified than Ollivierra, insisted that “a rookie cannot oversee all that, especially now that he does not have the technical staff to do the work.”
In the next three months if the plant is not maintained, the equipment will begin to corrode to the point of no return.
“It will be irreversible,” noted the former employee.
Rotating equipment, static equipment, electrical equipment and manual block valves are some of the main components of the WGTL plant that must be maintained on a consistent basis without fail. These areas are sub-divided, in the case of the electrical equipment for instance, which the former technician explained is equipped with 1,200 transmitters that four persons should be assigned to maintain. At present they only have one person to do the job. It takes a whole month to inspect and service all 1,200 of those transmitters.
What four persons will accomplish in three months, one person will accomplish in 12 months.
“It will be impossible for one person to do the job of four,” and maintain every section of each main component of the plant, the former employee stated.
“Now it can only be done once a year and, if it rains and water gets into the equipment, you can have water ingress,” he explained.
Then there is the challenge of specialised parts for the plant’s equipment.
“Some of the equipment is so specific it can take up to six months to get here after sourcing it,” the technician said.
In particular, the reformer tube, which is not off the shelf, would have to be sourced from a reformer factory.
Apart from the 1,200 transmitters, the electrical equipment contains control valves, switch gears, junction boxes, termination boxes and start-stop switches.
If the plant continues to run on a skeleton staff, “imagine what will happen in 12 months” in terms of how it will deteriorate, the former employee said.
The asset preservation plan is said to have been approved and financed by Petrotrin, so they know the value of it, the technician said.
WGTL’s new investor (NiQuan) promises 700 jobs to locals
Now that WGTL is in receivership, not much is happening at the company, and not much can happen with PwC, the accounting firm responsible for the receivership and the transaction between WGTL and its new buyer, which is NiQuan Energy at this time.
NiQuan told Caribbean News Now its initiative will see the completion of the project via a capital injection of over TT$900 million (US$140 million), with no further cash contribution being required from Petrotrin or the government. Additionally, NiQuan Energy will not be making any requests of the government for fiscal benefits outside of those that are normally applicable to companies operating in the Trinidad and Tobago energy sector.
NiQuan’s managing director Ainsley Gill told Caribbean News Now, “The plant would represent another ‘first’ for Trinidad and Tobago’s Energy Industry; as it will be the only commercial scale GTL plant, of this scale, operating in the Western Hemisphere, a clear demonstration of the country’s technical and operational experience in the global energy business.”
Gill said the project will cause a positive economic multiplier effect as a direct result of the creation of 700 jobs during the construction phase, which is estimated to last 18 – 24 months, and once in operation will create 65 permanent high-value jobs in addition to ongoing maintenance support services.
NiQuan sees the GTL project as having the potential to:
• Lay the groundwork for further diversification of the Trinidad and Tobago gas-based industry.
• Provide a new and substantial source of government revenue.
• Support local entrepreneurs through employment opportunities during construction and operation.
• Become a catalyst for further gas-based industry development.
• Provide a boost in available work for service/supply sector companies.