THE TWO questions bpTT’s new president, David Campbell, get asked the most are: what was it like working in Russia, and did he meet its President Vladimir Putin?
“Russia is very much of interest to everybody at the moment, isn’t it?” he observed.
In his 38-year career at BP, he has had two working stints in Russia: between 2003 and 2007 as a senior member of the upstream leadership team of TNK-BP, which was a 50/50 joint venture between Rosneft and BP. The second stint was from 2014 to February 2022 as president of BP Russia in charge of managing the company’s 19.75 per cent shareholding in the majority State-owned integrated energy company, Rosneft.
In that time, he’s met Putin and his four children have all lived a part of their childhood in Russia.
“We were committed to the country and to the business,” said Campbell.
But with global sanctions invoked following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, BP decided to exit its shareholding in Rosneft taking a US$24.4 billion hit as a result.
“So obviously the assignment in Russia came to an end much earlier than I had hoped for reasons that we all understand. We’ve made very clear BP’s position as regards our investments in Russia. So we’ve exited the country and we’ve withdrawn all of our foreign staffing, including myself,” he recalled, in a virtual interview last Thursday.
“In all the time I was in Russia, the last eight years, we’ve worked or lived with sanctions as a result of the Crimea situation and the Donbas situation. We were used to that level of scrutiny and working with that in the background.
“The company was still committed to the business throughout all of that. But when these latest events happened, the company made a very different decision, which I supported and we took a different track. But we weren’t preparing for that,” he added.
The company withdrew and relocated staff and Campbell chose T&T as the next stop in global career which included stints in Alaska, Mexico, Iraq and the North Sea.
It’s been three months since he was appointed and in that time, he saw the conclusion of years of negotiations with regard to the restructuring of the shareholding of Atlantic LNG, signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) and the consortium partners (bpTT, Shell T&T and Lightsource BP) for the country’s first utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) project and announced that the Cassia C development, its first offshore compression platform and its biggest offshore facility, had safely delivered first gas.
For this, he credited the work done by his predecessor Claire Fitzpatrick and said she delivered the best handover he’s had in his career.
Happy to see the world
Asked whether it was a choice to come to T&T, he answered: “Oh, you’re always given a choice. You can obviously say no, but I was really keen to come.”
Growing up in Inverness, Scotland, his parents owned a bed and breakfast, which allowed him the opportunity to meet visitors from all over the world who stayed at their home.
“I joined BP to see the world,” he laughed.
He said while he knew of T&T, he hadn’t been to the Caribbean before. Two days after landing here, he was in the BP Renegades panyard on Charlotte Street, Port of Spain.
“It was fascinating to see the juxtaposition of culture and business and the music was great as well. In Russia, I really enjoyed the culture also. I have now watched a lot of concerts. I’ve watched a lot of ballet and I loved it and I’ve enjoyed the steelband and the culture here,” he said.
He’s careful not to compare.
“But I don’t want people to think one is better than the other. They’re just different. Very different and both fascinating,” he said.
“I have always been interested in other cultures. Coming from a small country, I wanted to broaden my horizons. But secondly, I also wanted to work on stuff that makes a difference. I was very fortunate because at the time I was growing up in Inverness, and then I went to University in Aberdeen, I was surrounded by a new industry growing up in the north of Scotland that was bringing foreigners into the area.
“But I really love the fact that this industry is important to the world and it continues to be important so it makes a difference,” he said.
Campbell’s tenure will mark a key turning point for T&T’s energy drilling as he wants to push deepwater and decarbonisation.
“What we want to do is to play our part in unlocking the energy future of Trinidad. And what does that mean? Well, one big ticket item is the deepwater,” he said.
He noted that while deepwater is more expensive and more risky, T&T is in a very good position geologically.
He pointed to the Calypso discovery, where BPTT has a 30 per cent stake with Woodside.
“I want to try and work with our partners, Woodside in Calypso, to bring that project on. And then work with the Government in negotiating terms on the deepwater blocks that we’ve signed up with our partner, Shell and to agree terms that would be acceptable for us,” he said.
“Now, of course, there’s always competition. There are other places we can explore in the world. But we know Trinidad, we like Trinidad and I’m confident that we can agree terms that would mean that we go after that. That would mean we could actually grow our production in bpTT.
“The current Columbus basin production is really important, as it is important that we offset the natural declines where our reservoirs decline. So those small pools are really important to offset that decline. And then we have possible cross-border fields and we have the deepwater and I want to try and accelerate, to actually build that,” he said.
He said a big game changer has been seismic technology.
“It’s a big enabler in Trinidad because the geology is very, very complicated. It’s very broken up. And seismic has developed over my career a great deal. And that’s one of the reasons why frankly, we now feel we can tackle it because we’ve drilled in deeper water and equally complex areas in other parts of the world. That wouldn’t have been the case there two years ago,” he said.
And then there’s a twinning of BP’s bigger purpose of greening with bpTT.
“I want to look at the new purpose of BP and see whether we can do more in Trinidad to contribute to that purpose. That would include decarbonising the production that we have such as putting out the flare at Galeota which has been reduced considerably, but it’s still there. The solar project, obviously and making sure that that works.
“And there’s more that we can do. Can we play a part in some of these other things, can we bring more gas to Atlantic because the world needs that gas and we have here in Trinidad an existing plant where other people are building plants, and so we have that head start. But it’s about playing our part as a leading company in the country to unlock the energy resources of the country for the benefit of the country and of BP and indeed of the world,” he said.
He noted that until Russia he had changed jobs quite regularly.
“That’s one way of getting experience, I suppose. But in Russia the last job was eight years so you never quite know. But I hope I am here long enough to make a difference and to really enjoy the country,” he said.
With BP greening globally, Campbell conceives that countries will adopt an energy menu which will give them options.
He observed that there’s “a slight nuance” in countries now- valuing security of supply as much as the green transition.
While the push to renewables is speeding up, Campbell said: “I think not relying on one source is also an important trend that we’re seeing.”
He said it is important that there is understanding that BP is not a fully green company, as “that’s just not possible from where we stand. And in fact, our hydrocarbon business is a very, very important part of that process that is going to pay for a lot of those.
And it’s very, very important part of that security of supply,” he said.