Reservoir Engineer, Otema Dzandu Thriving in Ghana’s Oil and Gas Sector

Reservoir Engineer, Otema Dzandu Thriving in Ghana’s Oil and Gas Sector
11 min read

Ghana discovered commercial oil and gas in 2007 and eventually began production in the last few months of 2010. Concerning potential economic boost for the country, this discovery was good news for many Ghanaians.

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Policy makers, civil society groups, and analysts raised concerns regarding the challenges of managing Ghana’s oil and gas resources. Could these concerns have risen as a result of the few Ghanaian trained professionals with the required skills to manage this ‘wealth’?

It is only through interest, seriousness and participation that Ghanaians can develop significant skills to man our oil industry. This will enable Ghana to have total dominion over the industry. And in this male-dominated field, women are highly encouraged to participate.

Currently only a small percentage of jobs in the Oil and Gas industry are occupied by women. Encouraging more women, as well as increasing their participation in the sector is relevant, and could possibly even help address “skills shortage”, if that really is the case.

It is laudable that many companies today are looking to improve their recruitment systems by employing and retaining more women, as they have probably realized the significant opportunities to increase business productivity through increasing women’s participation in the sector.

Ladies, fear not. The oil and gas industry is not equivalent to heavy labour.

Ghanaian, Stephanie Frances Ama Otema Dzandu, is passionate about God, family, music and her career; she is a Reservoir Engineer at the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) where she undertakes various petroleum activities.

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Otema Dzandu, Reservoir Engineer at GNPC

Otema, as she is popularly known by her friends and colleagues, had her secondary education at Ghana International School (GIS). It was there that her love for the sciences was established. After she graduated in 2005, she went on to pursue her tertiary education at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, USA, where she graduated with a B.A. in Chemistry (and a Maths minor). She has also obtained a Master of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Aalborg University in Denmark. In mid-July 2011, she moved back to the motherland.

  • Why Chemical Engineering?

“Chemical Engineering for me seemed like the next logical step after an undergraduate degree in Chemistry. To be honest, after graduation I began to get more interested in Petroleum Engineering, especially after reading and hearing about our nascent oil industry. So my case is a bit weird. I had initially thought Oil and Gas was a subset of Chemical Engineering so I had hoped to take some petroleum courses once I started my Masters. I wasn’t able to, so in my second and final year, I did my research and eventually my final thesis was centred on Petroleum Engineering (though my degree was still registered as a Chemical Engineering one). It was the knowledge and experience I gained from that second year that solidified my desire to move back home and work in the Oil and Gas sector.”

  • What is your job at the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation like?

“When I moved home I did my national service (which is now compulsory if you want to work in the public/government sector, whether or not you had your tertiary education in Ghana). Lucky for me, I did it at GNPC so I wasn’t spending all my time running around doing irrelevant things but instead, I was getting a lot of hands-on experience from the amazing Engineering department team. I finished my national service in September 2012, came back for an interview a couple of months later and eventually gained full-time employment at the end of January 2013.

GNPC is Ghana’s National Oil Company. Founded in 1983, GNPC was basically formed to take part in, and monitor all petroleum exploration, development and production in the country essentially for the benefit of its people. We partner with various International Oil Companies, the ones that most people probably would have heard of being Tullow, Kosmos, Hess, ENI amongst many others, partaking in various petroleum operations and activities.

Being in the Engineering department has given me such a great understanding of petroleum activities, from the drilling of wells all the way through to the economics of how revenue is gained from this oil. I have come to appreciate how interconnected the petroleum sector is. So even though I consider myself a reservoir engineer, I have knowledge not only in the other engineering departments (drilling, production, facilities, HSE – Health, Safety, Environment) but I’m also exposed to the other departments of the Corporation as a whole. To put a long story short, a reservoir engineer wants to be able to get the most amount of oil out of the reservoir (porous and permeable rock under the sea) at the highest economic recovery. The job involves a lot of simulation and modelling using various reservoir engineering software in order to predict the optimum economic recovery of oil or gas from hydrocarbon-bearing reservoirs. It’s so exciting, especially at this time, because it’s such a fast-growing industry and there is so much to learn and experience.”

  • What are some of the challenges you have faced?

“There are certainly various challenges that come with any job, I think. My first issue was the feeling of a lack of experience. Because I didn’t do my Masters in Petroleum Engineering, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of the theory required and as a result there has been a lot of on-the-job learning. This is difficult at times especially when I feel that I’m falling behind and need to catch up. But I also see it as a blessing, because it has helped me find a way to acquire and assimilate information in record time and also be able to retrieve the salient points of a report or discussion. There is also the obvious challenge of being a woman in an extremely male-dominated industry. I find that remaining true to myself is extremely important in times when I feel I’m not being treated fairly simply because of my gender. I learnt very early that I shouldn’t have to compromise my beliefs, my standards or my integrity in order to be successful. I think once you are passionate about something and you genuinely love what you do, no matter what you will succeed, no matter the pitfalls or drawbacks.”

  • What is next for you?

“So for now my main goal is to work hard at my job and be an expert in my field. Working towards being an ‘expert in one’s field’ is a piece of advice given to me by a good friend that has always resonated with me. I want to be the woman that is so good in reservoir engineering that people come to me for consultation, knowing that I am a reliable woman of substance who has the information needed and the skills and ability to get the job done. But even reservoir engineering has so many facets to it. So I hope that through this job experience I would be able to narrow down my exact interest and God-willing go on to do a PhD. I have also always had the desire to teach and help other people gain knowledge, especially other young women trying to find their footing in their careers so that is definitely in the cards too.”

  • In your opinion, is Chemical Engineering a suitable option for women?

“Any career is a suitable option for women in my opinion. I feel as though we limit ourselves a lot by thinking that certain careers are better suited to men. I have been offshore on a drill ship, been the only female surrounded by over 100 men, wearing my coveralls, hardhat and safety boots, taking part in the operations, getting my hands dirty and it was, by far, one of the greatest highlights of my job. I believe that as long as one has the passion and drive for something, they should by all means go for it. I will admit it comes with its challenges as stated above but that should not keep anyone from reaching for and achieving their dreams. A motto I love to live by says ‘Strive for perfection, settle for excellence’. “

  • How should we get more women interested and involved in STEM?

“I personally am so excited when I see young women who have even the slightest interest in any of the STEM fields. I think ‘Levers in Heels’ is a perfect way to start. A lot of women get encouragement from seeing other successful women with stories just like theirs, women who have made it and are thriving. It all begins from childhood. The little girls who are interested in Maths and Science at that tender age when they are so impressionable, need to be encouraged, nurtured and supported. This goes a long way to affect their lives later on. I also believe a bigger emphasis should be placed on ‘Girls/Women in the Sciences’ in secondary schools and in college. Girls and women should know that these fields are accessible to them. They aren’t some abstract concept that’s ‘only for boys’, but rather something they can love and be successful in also.”

  • Have the men in your life been supportive of your career?

“That’s such an interesting question that just makes me smile, especially since I have so many men surrounding me in my life. My father, three brothers and husband are by far the most supportive people I have around me. I love that they think my job is so cool, by default making me feel cool too. I really love them for that and it also helps me to strive to succeed and make them (and myself) proud. It can get a bit tough when the job sends me off somewhere for months on end without much notice (the unpredictability of the industry – comes with the territory), since I’m such a family oriented person. It definitely takes some getting used to but it’s nothing we can’t handle. It’s such a joy to have people to celebrate with you when you succeed, comfort and encourage you when you feel low and just be there for you through it all.”