In 2014, Ian Wang seized the opportunity to be CEO of a clean energy company, NuEnergy Gas. The enterprise is currently focusing on exploring and developing Indonesia coal bed methane (CBM), after noticing the country’s vastly untapped CBM resources. CBM, or coal seam gas, is a natural gas that comes from unmined coal seams underground. It is categorised as an unconventional gas as it requires a different business model, as well as technology from conventional oil and gas to extract it from the ground.
While conventional gas is natural gas that migrates from its source rock and fills the porous reservoirs underground, CBM is formed in-situ during the formation of the coal seams. It is then held inside the pores of the coal seams through an adsorption process. CBM is classed as a clean source of energy as it contains 95–99% pure methane, a resource that has gained popularity amid the rise of greenhouse gas emissions.
According to ARII (Advanced Resources International, Inc.), Indonesia has 453 trillion cubic feet of CBM resources – coming sixth in the world for CBM. “I’ve spent 25 years either on the exploration and exploitation or the utilisation side of CBM,” Ian tells The CEO Magazine. “After previous jobs, I recognised that Indonesian CBM resources are substantially underutilised and that’s why I moved into this field.”
Ian studied geochemistry at university before doing his master’s and PhD at Imperial College London, where he specialised in structural geology and rock mechanics. He then joined the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing to do postdoctoral research before moving to Australia to work in gold exploration. On behalf of an Australian company, Ian later formed a joint venture with a Chinese business, and went to China to drill his first CBM well. He then spotted the opportunity in Indonesia with NuEnergy Gas.
NuEnergy Gas is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange and has a main focus on unconventional gas exploration and production. It operates five CBM assets in South Sumatra and East Kalimantan. These contracts are signed between the company and the government on a production sharing contracts (PSC) arrangement.
Opportunities and challenges
While the company has planned to move its CBM assets from exploration to production under the Indonesia conventional oil and gas regulatory environment, Ian highlights that there are still upside opportunities to fully capitalise on Indonesia’s CBM resources through the development of fit-for-purpose CBM regulations, guidelines, business processes and standards.
“There’s no CBM project in Indonesia at present so NuEnergy Gas is the first company that is going to commercialise one of its CBM assets,” Ian says. “Technically, we have the confidence. We have assembled top-class engineers to carry out the work and, at the same time, we are working with the government to streamline all the processes needed for us to start work. This has been the same everywhere; in Australia as well as China. When it comes to the first CBM project, the government has to pay a lot of attention and figure out how to regulate and support it.
“We have assembled top-class engineers to carry out the work.”
“While there has been a lot of support from the Indonesian Government for the first CBM development project, Indonesia’s CBM industry is still in its infancy stage,” he explains. “Although Indonesia has the service capability in general for conventional oil and gas, building up a service capability for CBM is a challenge.”
Ian emphasises that this challenge is exactly what he experienced when he was in Australia and China, especially as extracting CBM is not the same process as extracting conventional oil and gas. He adds, however, that this is an area where NuEnergy Gas has expertise. “We are not restricted to working in a particular province, state or locality,” Ian says. “Having experienced so much exposure in Australia and China, we know how we’re going to utilise best practice for CBM. That’s our strength.
“The Indonesian Government is keen to work with us to help develop and move this clean energy to market. The core message for the industry in Indonesia is that we are now fast-tracking our first CBM post-exploration and development efforts. We believe that this project will provide a stronger basis for the Indonesian Government to quickly establish fit-for-purpose CBM regulations, guidelines, business processes and standards. That way, we can spend both time and money to get to where we want to be in terms of utilising the clean energy.”
“We are now fast tracking our post-exploration and development efforts.”
Exploring the future
For Ian, leading a company in the unconventional gas market requires a lot of hands with experience – from exploration right through to exploitation. This is even more important as Indonesia doesn’t yet have purpose-built technology and service capability for it.
“After many years in the industry, you really grow your skill set,” Ian explains. “While you get more confidence in the technical aspects, every project is different. You can’t always come into it very opinionated from your experience with other projects."
Natural gas – whether conventional or unconventional – is mainly composed of methane. Here is a list of where other unconventional gas is sourced from:
Shale gas: Found in shale – a combination of silt, mud, organic matter and clay on shallow sea floors.
Tight gas: Found in limestone and sandstone
Methane hydrates: Methane trapped in iced water molecules in the arctic
Biogenic gas (biogas): Bacteria called methanogens that can make methane and can be sourced from food waste, livestock manure and sewage
"But you do need to try to accommodate what you have learned from previous projects and put them into every new project. You’ll then have a good understanding and planning to put together a program. Every project has new challenges, so you have to really work through them, no matter what the project is.”
Ian is very confident of the future of NuEnergy Gas and he has a number of strategies already in place to help it grow. “We have exploration programs for our other CBM assets in parallel to develop a plan of development."
"We’re looking at a large area, up to 300 square kilometres, for development. I’m very happy to see our plans almost in place and to see what NuEnergy can become,” he says.