Alex Dodds has been a busy man recently. The new managing director of Ras-Gas has hardly had a moment to spare since taking over the helm from Jerry Wolahan on 1 February. Plant inaugurations and conference speeches have had to be squeezed into his daily job of managing the world's fastest growing liquefied natural gas (LNG) company and overseeing the biggest single project in Qatar's history, the $13,000 million integrated RasGas III scheme.
The history of RasGas would have given Dodds, the former president of ExxonMobil Canada, a pretty good indication of what to expect from his new assignment. Ever since producing its first drop of LNG in 1999, RasGas has been in constant expansion mode. It now has four trains in operation, with construction of train 5 well under way, and contracts recently signed for its mega trains 6 and 7. It has significantly expanded its long-term customer base from South Korea, India and Spain to include in future Belgium, Taiwan and the US. It has moved down the LNG chain, becoming involved, through its sponsors Qatar Petroleum (QP) and ExxonMobil Corporation, in the Adriatic LNG receiving terminal in Italy. It has expanded its product slate, joining hands with Qatar Liquefied Gas Company (Qatargas) to implement the recently completed Ras Laffan helium plant. And it has been handed additional upstream responsibility, being put in charge of constructing and operating the Al-Khaleej gas (AKG) development. Managing such exceptional growth presents its own challenges. 'We will have gone from a two-LNG train operation of 6.6 million t/y [tonnes a year] with 700-800 employees to a 36 million-t/y operation with an employee base of up to 1,500 [by 2010], in a decade,' says Dodds. 'One of the biggest challenges from that comes the need to sharpen employment processes, including career path development and planning. As a company, RasGas could last for 100 years or more, which means that when you are defining a career development programme, it has to be able to support employee aspirations, if necessary for the whole of their careers.' Dodds maintains that other aspects of managing such a fast growing company are relatively straightforward. 'It's down to systems and processes and a stewardship plan that allows you to factor in the unexpected,' he says. 'As long as you've got a system that is not duplicating effort, it is straightforward. Every month, I sit down with the management team and look at the entire business. All of that is on two A3 pages. If we are on track, we don't need to debate. If we are not, we take action.' Having a rolling expansion programme has had its pluses. The company is now well versed in implementing and starting up new trains, having done four in just six years with a fifth to follow in early 2007. Its philosophy of 'designing one and building many' has saved significant upfront engineering costs, duplication and time. Trains 1 and 2,described by Dodds as being 'on remote control', each have a design capacity of 3.3 million t/y, trains 3-5 of 4.7 million t/y, and trains 6-7 of 7.8 million t/y. Finally, the involvement of Japan's Chiyoda Corporation in the contracting joint ventures for trains 3-5 and 6-7 and Jebel Ali-based J Ray McDermott for the associated offshore works has ensured that RasGas fully understands the capabilities and techniques of its contractors. The integrated RasGas III project, covering trains 6 and 7, is - along with the similar-sized Qatargas II scheme - the most ambitious LNG development ever undertaken. It involves the supply of 15.6 million t/y from trains 6 and 7, via 18 tankers, to terminals in the US. Unlike the train 3-5 project, the company has had to implement the far more complex integrated project in an era of escalating construction and shipbuilding costs. Considerable work has gone into mitigating risk and costs on the RasGas III scheme. 'Strategically, we have