A dialogue with Ecopetrol’s Yeimy Baez
NGW: How has Ecopetrol and the broader Colombian gas sector been impacted by the pandemic?
Yeimy Baez: Poverty indicators increased in Colombia after the pandemic. Around 40% of Colombian people now live below the poverty line. For Ecopetrol and for Colombia as a country, we are facing a challenge to meet the decarbonisation targets, but also provide resources that are affordable for our people. We are now seeing around 90% of natural gas demand compared with the pre pandemic world.
So we are pretty much catching up. I think this is actually a pretty resilient sector. The income from the oil business was reduced in 2020 when prices were low, but natural gas income offset some of the impacts we had.
It was a challenging year for Colombia, as well as for Ecopetrol. Now we are recovering from it, and the main challenge is how we help people to get the energy they need in an affordable way, because as a developing country that is the main dilemma.
NGW: Does the current energy market tightness, open up new opportunities for Colombian gas?
YB: All the gas we produce in Colombia is consumed in the domestic market. We don’t have anybody to export gas to, and we don’t have short term plans to do so. However I think there are plenty of opportunities for exports in the future. Today, Ecopetrol is investing significant amounts on new wells in the offshore basins. If we are successful enough, there will be export opportunities.
NGW: How does the project and work lineup look for Ecopetrol in coming months?
YB: From 2022 to 2024, we will invest $1.8bn in gas related projects. Most will go to our upstream segment - we are drilling an unprecedented number of wells in three main basins in Colombia. We are partners with Shell, with oxy, and Petrobras and we are drilling wells that will be a game changer for Ecopetrol, and for our country. In summary, we are increasing our investments in gas mainly in the upstream segment. We are also willing to pursue infrastructure opportunities - such as power-to-gas LNG terminals.
NGW: What efforts are the Colombian gas industry making to decarbonise?
YB: Last year we became the first Latin American company to commit to net zero scope one and scope two for 2050. This is a significant challenge for Ecopetrol, as for everyone else in the natural gas business. Our targets involve work across three streams - the first is gas flaring. We used to flare a significant amount of gas, we reduced those volumes by up to 50% since 2017, when we took the first measurement. That gas is now being used for power generation. But there are further technological breakthroughs that are required still to reach the 2050 target.
NGW: Where does Ecopetrol fit into the energy trends taking place in Colombia?
YB: Ecopetrol is the biggest company in Colombia, and is partially state owned. We play a significant role, we work very close with the Colombian government. When you mix the Colombian government and a company and the corporate machine so important in our country, then you have all the factors required to solve the equation on the energy transition.
NGW: Are there any specific partnership deals you’d like to highlight?
YB: For hydrogen - our CEO is in Davos this week, where he announced we agreed six alliances with Total Eren, EDF (France) Siemens Energy (Germany), Mitsui (Japan), H2B2 (Spain) and Empati (UK). So we have six companies that are partnering with Ecopetrol to pursue hydrogen opportunities, both blue and green hydrogen. This is something that will help Ecopetrol and the country to go to the next step.
NGW: Any big announcements on the cards for the event?
YB: We will have news at the end of this year, and hopefully the company will announce results of the wells that changed the gas market in Colombia and Latin America. I think we’ll have to wait until we finish those wells.
NGW: What have you enjoyed most since you have come into your current role?
YB: For the last two and a half years, I’ve enjoyed my role. Being a woman, and being a mum of two kids, and as an engineer. I feel privileged to be able to work in the energy transition, and being in a company that is committed to the soul. I think it is a transformational period, in which we are living. We have a unique opportunity to change what we are doing in terms of energy for the world. That is something that excites me every day, with different people around the world. I have seen a willingness to work together, and I think that is something I have not seen in my previous roles. We are realising that we have to work together, involving different countries, different companies in different regions. And that is something that has definitely been very unique in my experience.
This Q&A first appeared in the World Gas Conference 2022 daily newspaper, produced by NGW.