History of Laser Engineering
I left for the USA in September 1980 to undertake a graduate programme at Stanford University and while in the USA it did not take me time to decide that I must return to Nigeria. However, to return to Nigeria I knew that I needed a personal computer. I returned to Nigeria in 1985 with a PhD in Petroleum Engineering and an Apple Macintosh desktop computer. That period was a terrible time in Nigeria and many common household goods, even Lipton tea and sugar, were classified essential commodities. It is only God (at that time I had not given my life to Christ) knew why I did not escape from Nigeria. I got employed by Shell on completing my PhD, but I felt obliged to serve out my bond at the University of Port-Harcourt because the University sponsored my education. The University even paid my salary which was about four hundred and thirty naira (N430) per month for the five years I was in the US.
Back to Nigeria in 1985, I was assigned to teach some undergraduate and graduate courses, but these courses did not keep me busy enough to occupy my time and the student population was relatively low. Apart from playing tennis, my social life was low and so I thought something I could do with my time. My first attempt at business was running a short course on welltesting with late Dr Godwin Okpobiri. It was not successful because we wore ourselves down preparing the course material using stencil. On the day we were to start teaching, we were awake till 3 am preparing the materials! We entered the class exhausted, but we made some money. At that time there were about two Nigerians running short courses in Nigeria. Of the two, the late Prof Chi Ikoku was well established as he had experience from teaching for PetroSkill in the US.
We overcame the challenge of preparing course materials with the word processor in my Apple Computer. I employed Miss Margaret Job (now Mrs. Margaret Anele) who was a local typist to dump the materials in my computer while I came back in the evening to format the document. At this time the Late Dr Okpobiri had left for greener pastures in NAFCON. With the acquisition of a laser printer we saw the need to not only type our course materials, but to open a typesetting outfit. Our laser printer was the first privately owned laser printer in Choba if not the whole Port Harcourt. We were patronized by printers and publishers who needed quality printed output. We charged thirty naira per page while my monthly salary was eight hundred and five naira. There was then a need to have a business name and we registered a business name, Laser Engineering Consultant, in 1990. Why Laser? Just because it is a splendid light!
Let me acknowledge the contribution of my late wife, Augustina Onuekeghachi Onyekonwu (nee Obute). She was indeed a great support and took care of the business while I busy with teaching or other activities. She graduated in 1989 and we got married the same year and she never worked for anybody, but invested all her time in growing Laser. She played the role of a document typesetter, HSE Officer, Business Development Officer, Procurement Officer, Administrative Manager and finally became a Director in Laser. She also became a petroleum Engineer by induction even though she studied English!
The big break for Laser came in 1995 when Shell Warri responded to our advert on teaching Well Testing by inviting us to analyze welltests in their office. This venture was rewarding financial, academically, etc. I had acess to welltest field data and therefore wrote one of the best books in Practical Welltest Analysis. The next break came in 1999 from Shell Port-Harcourt to conduct gas injection studies while another break in 2001 from Agip to conduct Ebegoro Field Development study. With the studies we registered Laser as a limited liability company changing the name from Laser Engineering Consultants to Laser Engineering Resources and Consultants Limited.
We completed the reservoir study jobs excellently and our eyes were opened to the poor quality of fluid data used in reservoir studies. We then decided to open a PVT laboratory to characterize reservoir fluids properly. Late Dr David Okoye gave us a document on DB Robinson PVT equipment which is not a blind cell and does not require mercury. Our PVT laboratory became the first mercury-free laboratory in West Africa if not Africa. Due to the unfriendliness of mercury to the environment, many PVT laboratories in Nigeria, including Schlumberger, scrapped their mercury based PVT equipment. Schlumberger eventually acquired DB Robinson and they are now the custodian of the mercury-free technology.
As a result of our involvement in reservoir studies we needed reservoir static modeling software. We could not buy Schlumberger static modeling software because of cost and therefore we started searching for new static modeling software. The outcome of our search was that we found Petrel and introduced it to the Nigerian market. Total (then Elf) was the first to buy Petrel in Nigeria. We trained a lot of their staff, including their expatriates. The use of Petrel gained wide acceptance and Schlumberger decided to buy Technoguide, the developers of Petrel. Now, Petrel is the standard static modeling software in the oil industry. We pay Schlumberger to renew our license even though we were original distributors of Petrel in Nigeria. We wish we had money to buy the company before Schlumberger!
All these happened within ten years and during this period, the bulk of Laser staff were my students. They worked for Laser while going to school and in return they got small pay packages, but acquire real practical experience that made easy for them to get good jobs. Now, anywhere you go in this industry, you must see someone who passed through Laser holding important position. Laser has now developed an arm, Laser Petroleum Geoscience School, to handle training of students and university graduates. The difference now is that the students or graduates pay for us to train them because Laser trained geoscientists are in high demand in the industry. It is worthy to mention that we still run short courses for the industry.
The motive behind every Laser business is to close a knowledge or service gap. Our new investment in research is also driven by the same motive – to drive and commercialize research in Nigerian oil and gas industry. At present Laser employs about eighty people and has offices in Port-Harcourt, Lagos and Benin. Our services include the following:
- Petroleum Reservoir Engineering Studies involving both static and dynamic modeling
- PVT and Flow Assurance Laboratory Services
- Environmental Studies and Laboratory Studies
- Manpower Development using the platform of Laser Petroleum Geoscience Center
- Slickline and Bottom-hole Sampling Services
- Full-fledged Seismic Interpretation Services.
- Research and Development, etc
The brief history of Laser cannot be complete without recognizing some organizations and friends that helped us. The Board represented by the Chairman, Sir Engr. Igweka Uche, contributed to our growth. The Society of Petroleum Engineers Nigeria provided a good platform for exchanging ideas and reaching out to many professionals. Professor David Ogbe stood by me although I could not give him a feasibility study of the business. I did not know, at that time, how to write one! Alec Musa (Total) and Soye Onumodu (Shell) gave me good lessons on business ethics which is still guiding us. Late Professor Chi Ikoku gave me space to perform. Laser staff also helped to make things happen. My colleagues in the university, Prof J. A. Ajienka, and SPE etc also contributed immensely to the growth of Laser. Thank you all and may God bless all of you. We succeeded together!
Professor Michael Obi Onyekonwu, PhD Stanford, FIPS, FOGTAN