SPE News

Timor-Leste Student Chapter Hosts SPE CEO Keynote and Distinguished Lecturer Extravaganza

The event, the first of its kind, hosted more than 500 students for discussions from industry professionals, SPE Distinguished Lecturers, and SPE CEO Simon Seaton.

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Students listen as SPE CEO Simon Seaton delivers his keynote address.
Source: All images provided by author.

More than 500 SPE members attended the SPE Timor-Leste Student Chapter technical meeting at the National University of East Timor (UNTL) Hera on 24 April. The meeting was one of the core commitments promised to the student chapter by the SPE Western Australia (WA) Section after its inauguration in 2023.

In addition to the core commitment of quarterly meetings in Dili featuring international speakers, students were also promised a chance to win annual scholarships, connectivity to Australia, and potential employment opportunities.

The latest meeting in April provided a special opportunity as it merged a previously planned SPE Distinguished Lecturer (DL) Extravaganza (originally scheduled for Q1) with a keynote address by SPE CEO Simon Seaton.

Excitement for the event was palpable as students gathered more than an hour before the start of the event. As part of the opening proceedings, SPE student member, Bendito Faria, led the audience in singing the national anthem of Timor-Leste, "Pátria" (or "Fatherland"), with accompanying guitar. The anthem is always a moving experience outright in itself but even more so for those familiar with the tumultuous history of this young nation.

Various academic staff and SPE student officers then presented ceremonial Tais (scarves) to VIPs, including the event speakers. Industry professionals including Rui Soares, president and CEO, Timor Gap; Yosuke Ueda, VP Oceania Projects, INPEX; Rachael Ratican, second secretary, Australian Embassy (representing DISR); Dino Gandara, technical manager, SundaGas; and Eileen Khoo, SPE WA Student Chapter liaison, were in attendance.

As leader of SPE WA’s Timor-Leste initiative, I began the event with an introductory speech which included a musical video summary of the SPE Timor-Leste journey so far, as well as two outstanding video entries for the 2024 scholarship competition by Cecilia Pinto and Cecilio Santos, each a 1-minute selfie video to explain their understanding of the energy transition.

This year, 14 students were awarded scholarships and announced with their associated 2024 sponsors. Winners include Andre Pinto-DIT, Cecilia Pinto-UNTL (INPEX), Gerdio Maunaha-DIT, Henny Pires-UNTL (Santos), Cecilio Santos-DIT, Jubelia Ximenes-UNTL (Woodside Energy), Fernandito Fraga-DIT (ODSI), Hugo Guterres-DIT (Timor Gap), Kevin Martins-UNTL (DISR), Mafalda Barros-UNTL (SLB), Mario Rainha-DIT (Rockflow Dynamics), Novia Carvalho-UNTL (Future Energy Exports), Ponciano de Jesus-UNTL (Sundas Gas), and Victoria Magno-DIT (Pivotal). Included with each scholarship is a 1-week visit to Perth coinciding with SPE’s flagship Asia-Pacific event, APOGCE, during which the Timorese winners will attend a 1-day Energy4me seminar coupled with interactive sessions at our sponsor offices.

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Dino da Silva, ANP President, spoke to students at UNTL-Hera, his alma mater.

Dino da Silva, president ANP (National Petroleum Regulator), formally opened the event as he highlighted the emotion of returning to his alma mater, especially in such a beautiful auditorium packed with students, and graciously praised the huge benefits that SPE is delivering in Timor-Leste. Da Silva paid tribute to all those participating who had made a special trip to Dili for this event and vowed to help champion the establishment of an SPE professional section.

The event’s keynote address was by Simon Seaton, from SPE in Houston, who is a little under a year into his tenure as CEO. Seaton kicked off by summarizing his career journey, something especially relished by students in Timor, the history of SPE, and petroleum engineering.

He then transitioned into the energies of the future coupled with the immense importance of engineering resources to the energy domain and accompanying soft skill sets. He stressed that SPE is aligning and adapting to the energy transition through various technical initiatives, emphasizing that in "every scenario we need more wizards." It was a compelling message for the 500+ engineers and geoscientists listening intently, and also much appreciated by the academic staff.

Promisingly, SPE membership has increased by almost 7% to 127,000 year-on-year, remembering that the contribution from Timor-Leste is not insignificant.

A beautiful color hardback book was provided by Energy4me for the best question put to Simon.

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The keynote session concluded with traditional Timorese dances by eight SPE student members sporting ethnic costumes: Cecilia Pinto, Devia Tilman, Remigia da Silva, Ercia Belo, Arcangela da Conceição, Nélia Pereira, Esmeralda Eko, and Elma Vilanova.

Many students wanted to ask questions of Seaton and the (DLs). Our masters of ceremony, Ponciano de Jesus and Dety Cesario, had the challenging task of selecting a short list of five eager students. 

We were thrilled that ANP President Dino stayed to have lunch, engaging in relevant conversation about future Timor-Leste energy developments and SPE initiatives. Lunch consisted of Katupa (red rice), Raba-Raba (mixed cassava leaves, banana heart and papaya fruit) together with fried chicken and fish, and most critically, Timorese sambal (chili).

Dino graciously remarked that it was probably the best event he had witnessed in Timor-Leste in his 15 years in government.

The SPE DL Program is a flagship initiative that has been successfully running since 1962. Annually around 30 DLs are selected by a rigorous process. Each of them venture out on 2-week regional tours. Ordinarily, DLs only speak at the monthly technical meetings held by the 200+ professional sections around the world. Hence the idea of three DLs speaking at a single “extravaganza” to a remote student chapter between Australia and Indonesia, was not only novel, but somewhat challenging to coordinate.

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SPE CEO Simon Seaton, DLs Ryosuke (Rio) Yokote, Janelle Lawer, and Paul Lyford, and leader of SPE's Timor-Leste initiative, Steve McBride.

Paul Lyford, planning portfolio and resource management general manager at Santos HQ in Adelaide, delivered his talk on “CO2 Storage Resources Management System: Learnings from World First Booking,” a pertinent subject to Timor-Leste with Santos planning to imminently migrate the Bayu-Undan field to carbon capture, storage, and utilization.

Any trepidation that Janelle Lawer, asset technical manager at Woodside Energy’s Perth HQ, may have had about speaking immediately after lunch during the midday tropical heat was immediately allayed by the UNTL student band. The band launched into a 20-minute repertoire of Timorese songs encouraging the audience to sing along and certainly ensured that the lively audience was ready to listen to her talk on “Is Mercury Contaminating your Natural Gas? Improved Accuracy in Downhole Analysis; A Case Study from Sand Face to Production Stream”, another relevant presentation in this geography.

Our third and final DL, Ryosuke (Rio) Yokote, senior petroleum engineer, at ENI Australia’s Perth office, spoke on “Well Dynamic Simulation—Challenging the ‘Just Do This’ Approach” with passion and pragmatism on a subject which no doubt many budding engineers attending could easily relate to.

This venture was not a minor undertaking for the DLs, and SPE is grateful to their respective organizations Santos, Woodside Energy, and ENI Australia. Moreover, as the current global chair of the SPE Distinguished Lecturer Committee), I was especially gratified noting that this event was undoubtedly a "world-first" with three SPE “ambassadors” plus the CEO speaking to an audience of approximately 650 students.

The highest-ranked students in the scholarship competition from UNDIL (Gabriel Carvalho) and UNITAL (Simplicio Maderia) were each awarded a laptop by Sarah Green principal client relations, on behalf of the Caltech Group of Companies, a 2024 SPE Timor-Leste supporter.

As a new major sponsor in 2024, SLB was represented by Keith Boyer, senior account manager Timor-Leste, who traveled from Perth to deliver a presentation partly on his career to date but also addressing the students’ future, challenges, and successes intertwined with well thought-out analogies from Dr. Seuss stories written by American children's book author Dr. Seuss.

SPE Timor-Leste Student Chapter President Inersia Soares gave a speech of gratitude in her second year of the chapter leadership before SPE Faculty Advisor and UNTL Vice Dean, Domingos de Sousa Freitas (Nido), closed off an eventful day expressing his appreciation to SPE and all participants.

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Steve McBride and Janelle Lawer smile with students as the event comes to a close.

Our speakers smiled as they absorbed the carnivale-like atmosphere at the end of formal proceedings as the band once again cranked up whilst the students jostled for hundreds of selfies with the various speakers and dignitaries. Everyone who attended will have memories of this day representing another immense leap forward in the dreams and aspirations of the Timor-Leste petroleum engineering and geology students.

Muito Obrigado! Viva Timor-Leste! Viva SPE!