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­ The man at the heart of VN's oil industry

Update: June, 29/2014 - 18:14
Labour Hero: Tran Le Dong (third from right), who has received the nation's highest civilian honour, with international experts at an oil and gas industry conference in 2011. — Photo petrotimes.vn

Tran Le Dong has been a part of the nation's oil and gas industry since its inception and played a major role in its development. "I am a drop of the country's oil and gas reserves," he tells Hau Quynh and Ha Nguyen.

Tran Le Dong has devoted his life to the national oil and gas industry and has conducted several studies on the exploitation of the natural resources.

Apart from receiving a doctorate, Dong has been awarded the Labour Hero and the Ho Chi Minh Prizes for his contributions to science and technology in Viet Nam.

Born to a poor family in Trung Le of Duc Tho District in the central province of Ha Tinh, Dong was aware of his mother's words, "Your life could be very hard because you were born in the Year of the Monkey but you should work hard to improve your life. Your father forecast that when you grow up, you would have to work far from home to be successful."

Dong said despite having six children, his farmer parents did their best to encourage them to study hard.

"But when my older sister Tran Thi Thu and I got admission into a high school without writing an exam, my parents couldn't afford it. My sister volunteered to drop out from school and stay at home to help my parents in the field," Dong recalled.

To repay the sacrifices made by his parents and sister, Dong often woke up very early and walked nine kilometers to reach his school.

Dong recalled that he often went hungry to school but the thought of his parents made him feel strong.

His outstanding results made his family happy. His eldest sister-in-law said, "The entire family and relatives as well as our neighbours wish you to enrol at the Medical University so that you treat them when they fall ill."

However, in 1967, Dong graduated from high school with the highest marks and went to study the geology of oil and gas at Azerbaijan's Baku Petrochemistry University.

At that time, Dong always remembered his friends in Viet Nam who had joined the army to fight the US troops. He told himself that he should take advantage of the opportunity he had to accumulate knowledge from books and documents as well as foreign teachers and friends while studying there.

After six years of study, Dong stayed back at the school to research "comprehensive optimal solutions for oil and gas exploitation in the depression area of mountains".

In early 1978, Dong successfully defended his doctoral thesis on oil and gas geology in the Soviet Union at the age of 29.

After returning home, Dong worked at the Viet Nam Institute of Oil and Gas where he had seniors such as Le Van Cu (deputy head of the Viet Nam Oil and Gas Department), Ho Dac Hoai (Rector of the Viet Nam Institute of Oil and Gas), and Ngo Thuong San (deputy director of the Oil and Gas Company in the South).

They are not only Dong's idols for their moral and healthy lifestyle but also their devotion and love for their job.

"They helped me a lot by supplying documents and data for my research of the geological structure and oil and gas prospects in southern Viet Nam," said Dong.

In 1983, he became the chief author of a scientific project on the geological structure, evaluation of oil and gas potential and orientation work on exploring and exploiting the Cuu Long (Mekong) River Delta's down warping, the main oil and gas area in the country today, he said.

He recalled that in early 1975, before the liberation of the South, Mobil had discovered oil in Viet Nam's Bach Ho oilfield with an output of 2,400 barrels per day.

At that time, the exploitation of oil and gas could not be implemented because just two months after the discovery of this oil bed, South Viet Nam was completely liberated, said Dong.

In 1978, the Viet Nam Oil and Gas Department invited three companies from Germany, Italy and Canada to seek more oil and gas seams in the country's continental shelf, but it was not successful, Dong recalled.

Moreover the US had imposed an embargo on the country. The then Party General Secretary, Do Muoi, said, "Without oil and gas and food, Viet Nam could not survive."

Dong recalled that a decisive turning point was the signing of an agreement by the governments of Viet Nam and the Soviet Union to set up a joint-venture enterprise for oil and gas (Vietsovpetro).

By 1985, Vietsovpetro had installed the first offshore oil drilling rig at a depth of 55 metres, he added.

As a result, in June 1986, the first barrel of oil was extracted.

Dong said that at the time he was acting as deputy director in charge of Vietsovpetro's geology work on the Vung Tau sea area, a large sand bank with wild aegeceras trees. A wharf was built with full services.

They had to work very hard to build the infrastructure but the exploitation of oil and gas is not easy, particularly at the depth of more than 50m offshore and more than 100km inside onshore, Dong recalled.

"While working with Russian experts, I recognised that they often forgot themselves in their work. No one can measure their silent sacrifices," Dong recalled.

Apart from modern technology of exploitation imported from Russia, these experts devoted their efforts to guiding each Vietnamese engineer and worker on how to work at the drilling rig, he said.

"Despite having special equipment and abundant personnel, a leader should find the most optimal solution. Otherwise, if we tapped 100 tonnes of crude oil, we would get only 15 tonnes of oil, causing a lot of waste of natural resources," said Dong, who was then the rector of the Institute of Sea Oil Scientific Research.

These thoughts have always played on his mind.

With his passion for research and the help from Russian experts and his Vietnamese colleagues, they found the most optimal solution to force-pump water into the oil-bearing bed. But they had to obey three principles, namely pump in time, pump at the right place and pump the right quantity.

The plan had solid scientific basis backed by abundant documents, but it was strongly opposed by foreign companies when it was presented for discussion, Dong said.

They said the oil bed would not only be flooded quickly but would also be destroyed if that method was applied.

"I was very disappointed because prominent among these objectors were experts from the World Bank," Dong said.

Despite all problems, Dong and his Russian experts were confident about their success. They used their method and got instant results.

Vietsovpetro had increased its oil output at the Bach Ho oil field to 10 to 12 million tonnes per year, a ten-fold increase from before, said Dong.

"But most importantly, we could increase the rates of the oil to 40 to 43 per cent compared with the 15 to 18 per cent before the method was applied," he said.

As of 2010, their method has brought US$15 billion for the two countries, said Dong.

At the end of that year, President Nguyen Minh Triet said, at a ceremony to award Dong with the Labour Hero title, that their success was a result of his creativity and devotion. "It has created a great position for the Viet Nam oil and gas industry's entry into a new era," Triet added.

Although Dong has given his entire life to the oil and gas sector, and has received several titles and prizes, he has only this to say, "I'm a drop of the country's oil and gas reserves. My biggest happiness in life is that I have had a strong and faithful attachment to the career that I chose." — VNS

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