President and CEO of ExxonMobil Qatar Inc.
Alex Dodds is an imposing figure, standing over six feet tall. Quick to smile, he speaks gently with a Scottish brogue still evident after his many years of travel.
Seated in his office, gazing out at the dazzling array of buildings springing up in the West Bay area of Doha, Alex takes Oryx through the long and interesting journey that now sees him as President and General Manager of Exxon-Mobil Qatar Inc.
How did you get started in the oil and gas industry?
I am one of those people who was has been very fortunate in life. I left school without a qualification to my name and was taken on as a labourer by Dumfries & Galloway County Council. My first summer I loved the job, it was a hot, hot summer that year and the work was outdoors; I had a great suntan and a pocket full of money every weekend. How-ever, this was swiftly followed by a colder winter than Europe has been experiencing that year, and I soon realised I had made a big mistake in not staying on at school. I decided to go back to night school and technical college and studied for a national engineering certificate, which in turn led me to get a place at Heriot-Watt University in Edin-burgh. I qualified as a civil engineer just in time for the industry to collapse!
I was sitting in a bar in Edinburgh feeling sorry for myself as I couldn’t get a job and got talking to a French gentleman; I mentioned that I was looking for a job and he asked if I had considered the oil business. He worked for Schlumberger, and one month later, after going through the interview process, I was on a plane to Bolivia. It was a very hard couple of years, sometimes working six continuous weeks on the rig followed by two days off, but it was a great education in the industry. Over time I noticed that every rig had a ‘Petroleum Engineer’, and I have to say I really liked the look of his job, so again I headed back to the UK and did a masters degree in petroleum engineering. I then set off to Aberdeen, knocking on the doors of the big oil companies, and it was Mobil who took me on. I have had a very rewarding and interesting career with Mobil and now ExxonMobil, and been fortunate to work with many different cultures ranging from North and South America, Europe, North Africa, South East Asia and now the Middle East.
What are the main changes you have seen in the industry?
I think it would be fair to say Qatar Petroleum, in partnership with ExxonMobil, has been instrumental in revolutionising the LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) business. Historically, the LNG supply industry was predominantly in North Africa and Southeast Asia, with a small volume coming from Alaska. The main customers were countries such as Japan, Korea, and Europe. In the early days of the industry the supplier of LNG would seek a buyer for the product before even building the facility, and agree a long-term sales contract; such were the major costs involved. Back then Qatar was viewed by some industry experts as being geographically disadvantaged due to the long distance from the traditional LNG buyers. However Qatar Petroleum and ExxonMobil have been able to change this around, and thanks to the quality of the natural resource, and our joint ability to deliver innovative technical and commercial solutions to resolve the distance issue, we have been able to reduce the costs to produce the LNG and transport it to such markets. Today that so-called ‘geographical disadvantage’ is now a major advantage and Qatar can competitively service gas markets both east and west of the Suez Canal.
Can you estimate the scale of Qatar’s reserves?
In terms of scale, Qatar’s North Field is the largest non-associated gas field in the world and has about nine hundred trillion cubic feet of proved reserves. To put this into context you can compare the very successful Arun LNG project in Indonesia which was considered large; it had around fourteen trillion cubic feet. So, in answer to your question, Qatar’s reserves are enormous.
How does Qatar compare to other places you have worked?
I have worked in some tough places, and I have worked in nice places, and for me Qatar definitely rates amongst the best. There is a great quality of life here, good security, and you are never short of things to do. From a profes-sional standpoint it would be more than fair to say that ExxonMobil is privileged to partner with Qatar Petroleum, and proud to contribute to the country. People forget that what we do here is more than just produce LNG; we also contribute to the growth of Qatar. Our ventures have helped to provide the foundation for a significant part of the economic development that has occurred. Of course, none of this could have happened without the visionary leadership of His Highness the Emir of The State of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. The ‘Qatar National Vision 2030’ programme exemplifies this.
Could you tell Oryx readers about the facility at Qatar Science and Technology Park?
This was a strategic decision by ExxonMobil to open a research laboratory in Qatar in partnership with the Qatar Science and Technology Park organisation. It is, in fact, the only research facility we have of this type outside of the USA. It allows us to do research on relevant technologies for the State of Qatar, and for the LNG business. Currently we have two main research focus areas: LNG Safety; and the environment. Firstly, we are developing a 3D visualisa-tion simulator that will be used for improving training and testing competencies of LNG plant and ship operators. We can simulate different activities and emergencies that can happen in process plants and ships to test operators’ ability to respond without actually being exposed to the risks – much the same way as airlines do with their pilots. It is an amazing piece of technology as the user is fully immersed in his surroundings. The second research focus area is the environmental impact of the oil and gas operations emissions on land, sea, and air. Recently, we have been testing the effect of chlorinated water outfall in Ras Laffan Industrial City. I am happy to report that there has been no detrimental effect, but these things obviously need to be constantly monitored to make sure we are doing our utmost to minimise the impact our operations have on our environment. The vision is to continue to come up with innovative research initiatives to our industry.
What impact has your CSR (corporate social responsibility) had in Qatar?
At ExxonMobil our CSR cascades down to every community we work amongst. We try to find the areas which are most important to those communities. Here in Qatar we focus on education, environment, and community & health. Sponsorship of the Golf Tournament, His Highness the Heir Apparent Horse race, and the tennis Tournament, are examples of the support we give to the sporting ambition of the State of Qatar. We are also very active in supporting NGOs in Qatar and some good examples would be our contribution to the likes of the Social Development Center, where ExxonMobil provided support to the Career Counselling Unit, now focusing on helping prepare young Qatari women to join the workforce. We were also the founding member of Injaz Qatar (‘Junior Achievement’), which is aimed at educating the next generation of Qatar nationals about the world of work and jobs that they may consider in the future. It means that we are involved at grass roots level, and that those who may be suitable for a future in our industry are known to us – and us to them – from the beginning.
What is the scale of ExxonMobil’s operation in the region?
ExxonMobil has around 550 employees in Qatar. We don’t operate the facilities ourselves as such, that is done through the joint venture operating companies: RasGas Company Limited and QatarGas Operating Company Limited. We do have around 300 ExxonMobil employees seconded into those organisations working with areas such as project development, project execution, engineering, and finance. This helps to build capabilities within joint ventures and allows us to share our technologies and processes.