The energy sector has a new player. Her name is Michelle des Etages and she is the CEO of Renaissance Energy Ltd, a small, mature but viable oil field in south Trinidad.
But that’s not all.
Des Etages, 52, now has the honour of being this country’s first female independent oil producer, among a field of 19 independent operators, including both lease and farm-out.
Her company, aptly named using the French word for rebirth, is a 100 per cent locally-owned and family-run company based in GP Road, Barrackpore.
“This 18.8-hectare field was acquired from former operator and energy expert Dr Krishna Persad in 2018,” she said.
Comprising then of 15 wells of which only three were in production and seven with viable potential, des Etages said Renaissance was able to increase the number of producing wells from three to 10, adding that the plans are to have all 15 wells operational.
“This translates to an over 300 per cent increase in daily production in just four years,” des Etages said.
But these weren’t a normal four years.
During this period, 2018 to 2022, we would have witnessed a worldwide shutdown due to the COVID pandemic and a period when oil prices plummeted below US$0. But despite these obstacles, this new energy company did not only survive, it prospered.
“And unlike many companies, we were able to do so without the loss of jobs.
“Family means a lot to me, both my family at home and at work,” says des Etages who has two sons, both working with her at Renaissance.
Jean Le, 27, works in HSSE and administration, and Nicoli, 23, is part of operations and production, with her brother Anderson Mahabir who is head of the procurement department.
“Being able to keep everyone on staff for that duration was my measure of success,” des Etages said adding that contented workers make for a productive workforce.
Her team was also able to meet all their contractual production targets set out by Heritage Petroleum without the introduction of any new wells.
“This field is a mature one with the first farm out given in December 1989. Despite this, with continuous and efficient well intervention workovers, we were able to maintain a very productive field,” said des Etages.
She also attributed the company’s growth to her entrepreneurial spirit combined with her profession as an accountant.
From early on, running a business was her chosen path.
Starting off as a video club owner decades ago when renting videos was the thing to do on the weekends, to dabbling in computer sales and real estate while studying, to freelancing as an accountant for small companies, des Etages’ advice for entrepreneurs is: “Never get too comfortable in your environment and don’t be afraid to jump in and take that challenge.”
Those two principles of not settling and fearlessness, have guided her through life, a life which was not without many challenges.
“I was divorced at age 32 with two young boys and no permanent job. The flexibility needed for work-life balance and more so to survive I found in working for myself,” she added.
“With every venture I stepped into, I learned as much as I could. And not knowing much about a particular business was not a deterrent for me. I had very limited knowledge about running an oilfield, for example, but I received guidance from major experts in the industry. Years of experience in accounting, planning, and the ability to balance finances while taking calculated risks paid off for me,” des Etages said, adding, “and I am still learning.”
“From very early on in the pandemic, even before mandatory restrictions were put in place nationwide, Renaissance was one of the first operators to establish and maintain protocols. I say with pride that everyone on the team is fully vaccinated. Given the rise in COVID numbers, we have already started to reintroduce safety protocol to keep the team healthy and safe,” she said.
This proactive approach seems to extend to all aspects of the business.
In addition to continuous workovers, Renaissance plans to drill its first two shallow wells in this first quarter using a snubbing unit.
A snubbing unit, also called a hydraulic workover unit, is used for intervention on live or dead wells. Its small footprint makes it economical to drill shallow wells.
“The team is excited as it will be the first time using a snubbing unit on land in T&T,” said des Etages adding that, “Renaissance would also like to acquire additional acreage.”
Delving into the future of the company des Etages shared: “Renaissance embraces environmentally conscious practices and innovative methods in whatever we do.”
This refers to the company’s commitment to work with the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries in its draft Policy to Create Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) specific legislation.
Given that T&T is a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement, steps must be taken to reduce our carbon emissions and to meet the target of cutting emissions by 15 per cent by 2030.
“In keeping with this, Renaissance is pledging to reduce the harmful effects of global warming and climate change with a campaign to sequester all carbon deposits produced at the facility by re-injecting into dedicated wells already designated,” said des Etages.
C02 sequestering is a proven best practice for the capturing and storing of carbon dioxide with the goal of reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
“The benefits are environmental, social, and economical,” she added.
When asked about the future of oil and the future of Renaissance, its CEO said: “The world over is phasing out fossil fuels. But this will take time. Tomorrow, there will still be oil and the need for it also. Renaissance Energy is also positioning itself for the future by diversifying its energy portfolio and by exploring new energy sources.”