Dec. 14, 2015

Sara Akbar


Sara Akbar

CEO, Kuwait Energy

"When we enter a country, we enter with the goal to remain for the long term."


Sara Akbar is CEO and co-founder of Kuwait Energy, one of the few successful independent oil and gas exploration and production companies in the Middle East. With a BSc in Chemical Engineering from Kuwait University, she began her career as a petroleum engineer with Kuwait Oil Company in 1991 and moved up several positions before joining KUFPEC as Business Development Manager in 1999. In 2005, Sara co-established Kuwait Energy. Her distinguished achievements in the oil industry won her the international Charles F. Rand Memorial Gold Medal in 2013. Other awards include 2009’s Leader in Energy, recognizing her as the leading women in the Middle East’s oil and gas industry. Her key role in Kuwait’s Wild Well Killers Team responsible for extinguishing Kuwait’s oil well fires in 1991 earned her the UN Environmental Programme Global 500 Award. She is the only member from the Middle East in the international C200 committee of women CEOs.

What are the primary objectives of Kuwait Energy and how would you describe its investment strategy in the region?

Kuwait Energy aims to become the pre-eminent Middle East-based independent oil and gas company and to develop and manage oil and gas assets in the interest of our stakeholders. Our strategy is simple, that is to leverage our technical expertise, local knowledge, and solid relationships to enhance our operations in the region and always ensure that we have a win-win relationship with host governments. When it comes to operations, we actively manage and operate our assets while prudently managing financial risk through a conservative capital structure. Our knowledge of the Middle East, and operational experience in the region, enable us to have an advantage in terms of operational planning, project execution, and risk management.

What are some of Kuwait Energy's major ongoing oil and gas projects in the MENA region and how do they align with the development goals of the countries' economies?

Due to the upstream industry's nature, Kuwait Energy contributes to the development of a country's economy in three major ways: it injects investment that vitalizes local markets and industries, produces hydrocarbons to support the host governments economies', and employs local staff to support employment. For example, in Egypt, Kuwait Energy and its JV partner's investments result in a gross production figure of circa 38,600 BOEPD and the employment of over 400 employees. Kuwait Energy is the operator of three out of the four producing assets (East Ras Qattara, Abu Sennan, Area A, and Burj El Arab). Kuwait Energy's projects are aligned with the development goals of the countries we work in. A recent example is the Abu Sennan gas plant in Egypt, which is the result of the strong partnership between EGPC and Kuwait Energy and a successful example of the public sector and the private sector coming together and each sector bringing in its share of knowledge, skills, and strengths for the interest of the country. The plant allows for optimum utilization of the hydrocarbons in Abu Sennan's Area. The associated gas is now captured and processed for domestic utilization instead of being flared into the environment. The process has also removed a bottleneck in oil production resulting in an increase in total field output. In Iraq, we've invested more than $300 million in the past five years, just commenced production from Block-9, and achieved 96% Iraqization in our office staffing. Within the coming year, we plan to commence production from the Siba gas field, the first gas field development in Iraq, which will provide much-needed natural gas to the national grid for domestic requirements. In Iraq, we enjoy a position of currently being one of the few regional independent oil and gas companies to be present in Southern Iraq, with our two major projects, the Siba gas field and the Block 9 oil field. While the Siba gas facility is being constructed and close to operation, we began production from Block 9 from Faihaa-1 well in October 2015. This first production from Block 9 was achieved after one year from the first discovery made in the Block. In addition, Iraq aims to greatly increase its crude oil production in both the short term and the long term to become one of the largest if not the largest oil producer by 2020. With a substantial year-end 2014 audited 2P reserves number of 725mmboe for Block 9, we are working toward fast tracking the complete development of the Block taking it into full production. As Iraq aims to substantially increase oil production and export in the medium and long term, we are confident of our ability to become one of the major contributors to the country's oil production targets. With regards to Yemen, a similar approach is followed, and millions of investment dollars are utilized to produce oil and gas to support the Yemeni economy. We also achieved very high Yemenization employment rates, similar to the ones we are achieving in Egypt and Iraq.

Tell us about the unique access Kuwait Energy has through its strong relations with national oil and gas companies and local governments in the region.

We provide valuable technical expertise, advice, and assistance to the national oil and gas companies and local governments on oil and gas projects that are important to these countries' economic development in the region. In Yemen, we have been working closely with the Yemen Ministry of Oil and Minerals, studying the potential development of natural gas reserves in Yemen and the optimization of the country's natural gas resources for the benefit of its people and to develop a long-term Yemen Gas Master Plan. We advise the Ministry on the most suitable uses and applications for the country's gas resources in order to ensure production sustainability and maximize revenue generation and job creation. As for Egypt, we acted as the catalyst behind the recent agreement with the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), from which it gained a 10% participating interest in Block 9, Iraq. This is EGPC's first international investment and contributed to building an economic relationship between Iraq and Egypt. We go beyond business and operations when it comes to our relationships with local governments, and become their support in difficult times. For example in Egypt, during the revolution in 2011, we were more understanding of the country's tough financial circumstances, and ensured that we support the country during those tough times. This was received very favorably by the EGPC as we proved that one of our main goals as a company is to become true partners and in the economic development of the countries we work in. In Iraq, we support the local government by providing relief aid to the internally displaced people (IDP) that have moved to the Basra region. Last December, we provided complete relief aid to the IDPs in Basra and, last Ramadan, we provided food packages to 2,500 families.

What importance do you place on attracting, retaining, and developing human capital, knowledge, and technical expertise?

We genuinely believe our people are our most important asset and we are deeply committed to their on-going development in order to deliver technical and operational excellence. Toward the end of 2014, we adopted a change in our organizational structure that would support our business growth plans, especially our large-scale projects in Iraq. This year we adopted a company-wide coaching program that will help all of our human capital develop and cope with our business and operational growth.

What are some of Kuwait Energy's most prominent CSR activities in Kuwait and abroad?

We believe strongly that we are part of every community in which we work. We have a duty to enrich lives in the diverse areas where we operate, beyond the employment and other commercial opportunities we create. Our continuous support for youth development programs and the provision of school supplies to children, recently in Egypt and Iraq, stems from our belief in promoting learning and education to work toward more sustained economies and healthy societies. We respond to emergency needs in the areas we work in. Recently, we have been providing relief aid with food and fresh water, medicine, and shelter to deprived families in Iraq and in Yemen. We strongly believe in supporting and providing opportunities to enable and empower women. In Egypt, we supported a project to enhance the quality of life for illiterate women through awareness and educational sessions. By teaching the women a range of basic skills to improve their confidence and positively impact their families and personal life, the initiative can help reduce the possibility of failed marriages and divorce. In Iraq, we sponsored sewing workshops for 30 underprivileged women in the Siba area, aimed at empowering women and providing them with skills they can use to start their own small home sewing businesses. We invited female petroleum engineering students from the Technology University in Baghdad to attend an intensive, two-week internship program at our office in Kuwait. We believe in the importance of providing women equal opportunities to develop in any business sector. Environmentally, we continuously upgrade our safety procedures in line with the highest safety standards. In Iraq's Siba and Block 9 fields, we completed environmental impact studies allowing us to develop projects that are socially and environmentally sustainable. With regards to health, safety, and environment, we follow world-standard environmental procedures, and our HSSE record is very competitive amongst our peers. In Kuwait, we planted the first tree of the Kuwait Green Wall project in June 5, 2012. The project aims to plant 315,000 trees in a circuit that stretches the entire land border of Kuwait. Following that, we went back in 2013 to plant 500 trees. Led by Kuwait Oasis, trees indigenous to the region are planted and provided with water conserved via specially designed utility boxes. Two years into the Green Oasis project, 90% of the trees we planted have grown and become fully independent. The irrigation system has been removed and the trees are able to survive on their own. Encouraging traces of natural life can now be seen surrounding the trees. This is positive sign meaning that the project is environmentally sustainability.

What emerging growth opportunities do you see for oil and gas development in the MENA region?

Currently, we have large-scale projects in Iraq, the Siba gas project, and Block 9 located in Southern Iraq. In accordance with our plans, we are allocating great effort and finances to fast-track the projects and bring them to existing infrastructure to ramp up and accelerate our production in Iraq in the near term. Once we bring more production on stream, the time will be right to go and target our next growth opportunity to create further value to stakeholders.

Kuwait Energy's long-term vision is to be a partner in development of oil and gas projects throughout the region. What are the plans to continue building on Kuwait Energy's track record moving forward?

A key partner for Kuwait Energy is host governments. When we enter a country, we enter with the goal to remain for the long term. To achieve this we believe we first need to understand the country's needs – economically and even socially. We then plan our business and operations in the country based on those needs. This helps us establish and maintain an excellent track record as they witness and experience our true desire to become long term partners, not only in the development of the country's oil and gas projects, but also the development of the country's people for a more sustainable economic and social development.

What are your expectations for Kuwait Energy in 2016?

We continue focusing our efforts on large projects in Iraq, eyeing the production start-up of the Siba gas project and fast tracking the full field development of Block 9. In addition, we will continue our operations in Egypt while carefully monitoring oil price movements and adjusting our work plans and capital expenditure accordingly to invest strategically across our assets. Kuwait Energy will continue to monitor the security and political situation in Yemen to enable us to restart production when the situation allows us to in a safe and secure manner.