Isioma Okolo is the Reservoir Engineer at Shell.
Africa’s upstream sector is seeing a wave of innovation and progress as companies and countries make strides towards monetizing untapped oil and gas resources. Individuals such as Isioma Okolo, Reservoir Engineer at energy major Shell, are at the forefront of this progress. Okolo is featured on the African Energy Chamber’s list of 25 Under 40 Energy Women Rising Stars.
Please share a brief overview of your journey in the energy industry that led to your current role? What are some key achievements or milestones that you are particularly proud of?
My journey in the energy industry started in the downstream sector where I worked as a Production Officer in a lubricant plant. As the only Female Engineer in charge of the production of lubricants, I was a bit uncomfortable at first but alongside the technical skills I acquired, this experience exposed me to managing a diverse pool of talent. Although I worked briefly in consulting as a Strategy consultant in PricewaterhouseCoopers, I was still drawn to the energy industry because I was fully aware of how its impacts the lives and businesses of Africans.
Today, it gives me a great sense of purpose to contribute to one of the key sources of revenue in Nigeria as I currently work as Reservoir Engineer with Shell Nigeria who manages the reservoir performance to ensure optimal recovery of reserves from 7 fields; some of which are major contributors of Nigeria’s export gas.
Overtime, I have recognized the importance of giving back to the society and this led to coaching and mentoring of female students. Two instances I am most proud of are the mentorship program through the SPE platform where I coordinated the Society of Petroleum Engineering electronic mentorship for female students in 6 universities in Nigeria and the mentoring event organized by the Association of Professional Women Engineers in Nigeria where I shared my experiences with female engineering students and future leaders by sharing my journey and highlighting the required skills in the Energy Industry. In 2022, I was recognized by Shell Nigeria for coaching of the Center of Excellence graduates from the University of Benin.
As an innovator, I created a fun way for learning the Reservoir Engineering concepts. I Initiated the Question of the Day initiative for the Reservoir Engineering Community in Shell Nigeria. This helped create a community of Reservoir Engineers who were aware of the fundamentals of Reservoir engineering with the perspective of Shell leveraging on her human resource as a competitive advantage. The initiative was recognized by the Reservoir Engineering community and was granted the 2017 Silver Reservoir Engineering Impact award.
In 2019, I was awarded a Special Recognition Award for an Automated Coaching System Initiative. This created opportunities for colleagues to acquire competences outside their niche skill sets and expose mentees to a wider pool of coaches.
The energy industry is known for its complexities. What were some significant challenges you faced along the way, and how did you navigate through them to achieve your goals?
At the beginning of my career journey, I struggled with the Imposter syndrome which led to self -imposed pressure. I would accomplish a lot, yet I had some doubts about my skills and talents. Those doubts made me feel I needed to do a lot to revalidate my skills. With time I recognized this challenge, and I became intentional about working on it. I have learnt to celebrate myself and my accomplishments. These are subtle reminders of the value I contribute to the Energy Industry. The shift from self to the value and impacts on the lives of others gave me a sense of purpose, which will always be a priority for me.
I am passionate about self-development; I seek knowledge outside my area of expertise and that has helped me grow. An example of this is the achievement of my MBA which I completed with distinction. This helped me become a better integrator and opened me up to different perspectives.
What advice would you give to young females aspiring to excel in the energy sector? Are there any specific strategies or mindsets that helped you overcome obstacles and reach your current position?
Some days you will have doubts about your talents. I have been in the industry for over nine years and till now I am intentional about the voices I let into my head so you will need to work on your mindset by reading self-development books and being intentional about your support groups and circle of friends. Sometimes you will fail, when you do; your resilience muscle is strengthened every time you pick yourself up. Learn from most of your failures and use them as steppingstones for the next phase. You may find yourself leading a diverse pool of individuals; this will provide opportunities for you to learn from different perspectives.
Networking can be a bit uncomfortable at first especially if you are an introvert, but this will expose you to limitless opportunities, so do not shy away from reaching out to people who are on your desired career-paths.
A career in energy can be demanding. Could you describe a typical day in your life?
I usually start off my day by connecting with God, after which as a fitness enthusiast; I work out at least thrice a week then proceed to work with my 2 liters of water which keeps me hydrated. I oversee the reservoir engineering accountabilities in a production unit made up of 7 fields thus quick decision making, thorough daily asset awareness is key for optimal production management. As a Reservoir Engineer in the subsurface Team, my day-to-day activities are not routine-based activities. I usually start off my day by joining the Daily Production Reporting Meetings with the production operations team where I get updates on the production and safety performance, we also discuss opportunities for optimizations. Somedays, I then coordinate the wells and reservoir performance reviews where we identify Short- and Long-term Oil and Gas Opportunities, ensure we are producing optimally while guaranteeing proper Reservoir Management.
Sometimes, I have lunch with my colleagues where I catch up and network, other times I take a quick power nap. Post lunch break, I now and again ensure proper planning of data surveillance, acquisition and interpretation which enables the understanding and prediction of the wells and reservoir performances. Depending on the time of the year, I coordinate the yearly subsurface business plan where I estimate the reserves/resources as part of the Annual Review of Petroleum Resources which is an input into the yearly business plan. After work hours, I relax with either Netflix or some good music and spend some time meditating/ reading short articles.
Looking ahead, what changes or advancements do you hope to see in the energy sector, and how do you envision your role in shaping that future?
Net- Zero emission is a common goal for corporations and governments. I think the Energy Transition into cleaner sources of energies will be in phases for different countries which will be tied to customer demands and government policies – Netherlands is more advanced in renewable energy solutions while countries like Nigeria are mostly interested in gas. I expect to see more cross-sector collaborations like the energy and technology industries coming together to understand customer’s needs and creating renewable solutions. I also imagine more favorable policies that will enable the private sector to participate actively in Energy Transition. I expect more collaborations between the education sector and energy industry towards strengthening school’s curriculum while leveraging on the research and development in creating prototypes for the energy industry.
As an integrator in the subsurface team, I envision using my technical expertise in leading teams and being at the forefront in steering conversations with global leaders on renewable energy solutions that are fit for purpose for Africa. I plan to continue sharing my knowledge and experience using the already existing platforms such as Society of Petroleum Engineering and Nigeria Association of Petroleum Explorationists.