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It’s a new world every day: Douglas Van Der Wiel

All his life, Douglas van der Wiel has been in touch with the energy and resources industry. As a child, on family days, he always had the opportunity to visit big refineries or gas plants being built as his father was working on them.

“I’ve always found them fascinating,” recalls the Oiltanking Asia Pacific President. “I’ve grown up with them around in my life. Maybe I had a natural bias.”

Douglas Van Der Wiel, President of Oiltanking Asia Pacific
Douglas Van Der Wiel, President of Oiltanking Asia Pacific

A long-term view

It’s also a world that, as Douglas has found, is extremely dynamic with some of the main demand centres based around Asia. In 2016, Oiltanking branched out from its existing Singapore terminals by commissioning a 730,000-cubic-metre development in Karimun, Indonesia, approximately 25 nautical miles south of Singapore.

It complements Oiltanking’s 2.3 million-cubic-metres facility on Jurong Island due to its state-of-the-art system design, deep draft and berth capability.

Oiltanking’s latest joint venture with the Singapore Government for a new terminal at Jurong Port is in line with its regional strategy and fits well with its existing terminals in the Straits Hub. “The terminal is a value-add to the market because of its configuration and design, the waterfront it provides and the connectivity to our existing facilities as well as to surrounding production facilities on Jurong Island. From that perspective, we are very excited to be part of this venture,” Douglas explains.

He, however, stresses that growth is never for its own sake. “We are a family-owned company, so we take a long-term view of the business and ensure our growth is sustainable by considering market developments and changing product flows.”

“We’re not a listed company. We’re family-owned. We have to make sure our growth is sustainable.”

In addition to looking at oil, chemical and gas opportunities in the energy markets, Oiltanking places emphasis on developing its large-scale gas portfolio as a strategic focus area. “In light of the global demand for gas, we are of the view that we can add value in this space. At the same time, Oiltanking will continue to keep a close eye on what is happening in the renewables market to ensure we are well prepared if we decide to step into this sector sometime in the future. However, the timing should be right.”

From a geographical standpoint, Douglas views positively the many emerging markets in Asia, which have large populations and growing economies. However, he notes that many lack sufficient infrastructure to support such growth. “Those markets are opportunities for us to support those countries. We can develop infrastructure and provide operational services with the aim of improving the reliability of supply and reducing the unit cost of products,” says Douglas.

While Oiltanking does set growth targets in its medium-term outlook, Douglas says he cannot always dictate the speed of development because of market circumstances. “For example, due to its size, the completion of the Karimun facility resulted in a significant jump in growth. But you can have a year, or two years, where you are looking for opportunities, and unfortunately, they don’t materialise for various reasons.”

The regulatory side of the energy and resources world is one that is continuously evolving and Douglas needs to consider the different regulatory requirements from each country. While regulations are typically more stringent in, for example, Europe than Asia–Pacific, he does see changes occurring. Concurrently, Oiltanking applies its own in-house standards to ensure it is a responsible corporate citizen in whichever environment it operates in.

Douglas Van Der Wiel, President of Oiltanking Asia Pacific

Safety takes precedence

“As the world increasingly looks at safety, occupational health and environmental standards, we do observe regulatory requirements becoming tighter and tighter.” The world saw the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, also known as the BP oil spill. The incident greatly impacted the way oil rigs are regulated and safety standards upheld.

However, since Deepwater Horizon was a drilling-related disaster and not related to storage, Douglas instead refers to the Buncefield fire at the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal in the UK in 2005 as a transforming moment in the oil and chemical storage space. “That incident really led to a shift in our industry,” he says.

“Then again, whichever incident occurs in the world, and to the extent that we understand the root causes, we as a group take them onboard in our considerations. Safety within our group is the highest priority and our processes are stringently applied. Besides the core safety processes, we have implemented a wide range of programs to inculcate values such as organisational and behavioural safety, asset integrity, environmental impact, regulatory compliance and so on. Basically, we want to ensure we keep earning our license to operate.”

Douglas Van Der Wiel, President of Oiltanking Asia Pacific

Fostering a cooperative organizational culture

In an industry that hinges heavily on a safe working culture, Douglas focuses his attention towards creating an environment in which a clearly defined strategy is shared with employees who have similarly defined goals and targets. While Douglas notes that many members of his team will have their own sets of experiences and competencies, Oiltanking puts plenty of emphasis on the type of behaviour it expects from people.

This includes being open-minded, taking ownership and connecting with all stakeholders. These behaviours, according to Douglas, are “well defined and reach the core of how we want to operate within our companies and the organisational culture we want to foster”.
“We want to get the best out of our employees. In turn, this collectively serves the greater good of what we are trying to achieve – operational and commercial excellence.”

Singapore Safety
From 1 September 2017, the Safety Case Regime put forward by the Singaporean Government took effect. Under the new regulations, workplaces defined as Major Hazard Installations (MHIs) are expected to proactively identify and manage safety, health and environmental risks, and demonstrate to regulators that they are as low as reasonably practicable. The government defines MHIs as petroleum refining facilities, petrochemical manufacturing facilities, chemical processing plants, and installations where large quantities of toxic and flammable substances are stored or used.

Similar regimes are already in place in Europe and Australia but, as Douglas Van Der Wiel notes, Asia is still a bit behind on such regulations. Rather than have the government state the regulations and expect everyone affected to comply, the onus is now on the regulated to show what they have identified as relevant hazards and risks.

“We need to describe how these risks are being controlled and what management systems we have in place to minimise risks not only for ourselves but also for neighbours and the environment,” Douglas says. “That’s quite a big program that is being applied here in Singapore, and we’re in the midst of it. But I must say, the engagement with the Singapore Government is extremely good. That way we all move forward, again, for the greater good for the industry.”

To achieve this, Douglas ensures the people within the Oiltanking Asia Pacific family are comfortable in sharing their views and opinions, as well as vulnerabilities, especially when they are unsure about something. “It’s okay to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘Maybe we need to look into this’. It shows authenticity,” he explains.

“You want to make decisions based on sound judgement, and if you are unable to do so in a specific circumstance, then start gathering input from your colleagues, surroundings and experts as sounding boards. I don’t think that shows weakness, in my view. That just shows you’re being realistic, confident and responsible.”

Since Douglas began his career in the energy industry in 1999, he has seen much change over the past two decades. There has been growth in demand and production, tightening of regulations, shifting of markets and the emerging energy transformation. Energy always has and will remain an extremely critical element in the world we live in.

Throughout all these years, Douglas’ interest has never waned. “From when I was young until today, the energy industry has never been boring; it’s a new world every day,” he says.

“Whether it’s upstream, midstream, downstream, product groups, transportation methods, storage methods, specifications of products, innovation, renewables, it’s just so incredibly fascinating and dynamic. It gives us a good feeling to be able to play our part in the value chain.”

“If you also look around the whole energy discussion in the past as well as today, it’s a topic that consistently features high on the agenda.”

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