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Indonesia has a wealth of natural gas reserves under the shallow waters around its coastline, but many remain either untapped or dismissed as uneconomic after initial investigations by geologists and reservoir engineers tasked with finding new energy sources.
One reason for the missed opportunities may be the sheer size of the country’s offshore area, encompassing a vast archipelago of 18,000 islands, out of which 6,000 are inhabited. The chances of stumbling upon a lucrative gas field along such a vast stretch aren’t exactly great.
But one company has gained a reputation for its uncanny ability to find substantial undersea pockets that others have either missed or underestimated. In doing so, it has delivered more than a decade of impressive growth that’s left its competitors scratching their heads in disbelief.
Singapore-based Conrad Petroleum was launched in 2010 by Miltos Xynogalas, rebranding and diversifying as Conrad Asia Energy in 2022. After a stint as Executive Chair, Xynogalas became CEO in 2018.
“Well, normally CEOs are professionals hired by companies, but I’m a little bit unusual because I founded the company a long time ago,” Xynogalas says with a smile.
“In fact, I call myself more of an entrepreneur than an executive, as Conrad is developing and changing all the time. My approach is to identify interesting low cost business opportunities at entry level that can continue adding value to the company and create the basis for continuous growth.”
“I call myself more of an entrepreneur than an executive, as Conrad is developing and changing all the time.”
And that he has done. Few other natural gas operators can match his record of sustained expansion through meticulous technical work for exploration of natural resources hidden under the ocean.
“One of the reasons we’ve managed to progress from a very small size to something quite respectable is our technical excellence,” he says. “We’re at the cutting edge of innovations in geology, drilling and ultimately development and production of natural resources.
“We hire the very best, high-end technical workers and use only the very best tools, so we have proven our excellence over many years.”
That Conrad is able to operate side by side with some of the giant multinationals that also stalk the coastal fringes for extraction sites is testament to Xynogalas’ expertise, his instinct for recruiting the best talent and recognizing when equipment needs updating.
“My role is to identify gaps that our competitors miss and to always be keeping an eye out for the latest advances in every part of our operation,” he acknowledges.
“We also experiment and, if needed, we have the ability to make changes and ensure we eventually get the right result. That’s how we stay ahead of the pack.
“We’re still a relatively modest company, but we’re extremely well thought of,” he says.
The gas that Conrad is about to start producing is certainly a better environmental option than most. It contains very little impurities, and it is sold to the buyers using existing pipelines without requiring liquefaction that generates high CO2 emissions.
But that still doesn’t make it an easy sell as nations pursue ambitious clean energy targets.
That reputation will be critical as Conrad looks to acquire further production capacity as part of Xynogalas’ plan to multiply in size over the next decade.
“There will be a day that I won’t be around and someone else will be managing the company. We have a strong succession plan to ensure that Conrad has a long future ahead.”
Part of his futureproofing has been embracing the move away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, never an easy ask for oil and gas companies.
“It’s by far our biggest challenge,” he reflects. “As the world gradually shifts to a more sustainable future, I want to position us right at the heart of the new realities, as I’m confident that green energy will benefit Indonesia.
“Presently we don’t have enough expertise, but my feeling is we can still play a key role. Gas is a much cleaner form of energy than oil and coal, so we’ll continue to produce that as the transition progresses.”
“My vision is for our company to play a key role in the transition toward green energy.”
Xynogalas’ instincts were echoed by a study last year that found unlocking the country’s renewable energy potential would be cheaper than a continued reliance on burning fossil fuels.
The IRENA report was conducted with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and concluded that it was entirely possible to boost clean energies such as solar, geothermal, biofuel and green hydrogen from today’s 14 percent share of usage to two-thirds by 2050.
That would be an impressive result, given that the population is predicted to rise to 321 million, according to some estimates, with demand for electricity increasing fivefold.
“My vision is for our company to play a key role in the transition toward green energy. That’s why we’re constantly seeking ways we can reduce emissions and use cleaner energy, while at the same time supporting Indonesia’s energy needs.”
Over the last 10 years, Xynogalas has built up a network of partnerships and strong supplier relationships that have been essential in Conrad’s ever-higher market share against rivals benefiting from greater economies of scale.
“We have very productive relationships with key partners such as our legal experts, McDermott, Will & Emery in Singapore, and Three60 Energy, a consulting firm in Malaysia that has assisted us over the years with technical work.
“They know our needs and are very familiar with our projects, so we trust them to always be there if we require help or advice,” he says.
“A big part of our business is the way we cooperate with the top companies in the region to improve our operational excellence and learn from them.”
Such strong bonds are mutually advantageous, and critical to maintaining a competitive edge. It has also led to approaches from some of his bigger rivals to share knowledge and expertise.
“A big part of our business is the way we cooperate with the top companies in the region to improve our operational excellence and learn from them,” Xynogalas notes. “We also benefit them through our entrepreneurial mindset, energy and lean operation.
“We’re an upstream company with an awful lot of potential for growth and eager to achieve our constantly expanding goals.”