Business Profiles

TOFCO – Here to stay

In keeping with its long-standing reputation for being the Caribbean’s only world-class oil & gas hub, Trinidad & Tobago has for decades been a global hotspot for hydrocarbon exploration and production. The task of keeping production levels from declining is big business here. Local operators rub shoulders daily with the industry’s established multinational big beasts, as they work tirelessly to tap into the estimated 728 million barrels of crude and 25.24 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of 3P natural gas reserves that lie under the territorial waters and lands of the twin-islands.

Thanks to its oil riches, Trinidad & Tobago remains by far the wealthiest Caribbean nation, however, as industry-insiders know all too well, the past five years have not been kind to the country’s principal economic activity, from which 40% of national GDP is derived.

The collapse of world oil prices in 2014 dealt the country’s energy sector a grievous blow, and brought about an industry down-turn which even now is yet to abate. But as the old saying goes, form is temporary, class is permanent – history has shown on more than one occasion that the market will undoubtedly pick up again. For now at least, though, Trinidad & Tobago’s oil & gas sector operators are in the painful process of readjusting to what experts consider to be a ‘new normal’ of pegged low oil prices – a process which is proving uncomfortable for some of the region’s oil & gas sector stalwarts. Trinidad Offshore Fabricators Unlimited (TOFCO), as the premiere offshore fabricator in the Caribbean today, is one such stalwart.

Since the company was first founded in 2004 as a joint venture between Weldfab Ltd. and Chet Morrison Contractors LLC., TOFCO has proven through the completion of some of the largest, most complex offshore platform builds ever built in the region, that its far-reaching reputation for excellence is well-deserved.

“What sets TOFCO apart is our world-class performance but with Trinidad pride. We keep the work in-country rather than send jobs elsewhere.  We’ve proven we can deliver projects to the highest of standards,” said Javed Mohammed proudly, TOFCO’s General Manager.

While TOFCO provides maintenance and fabrication services to both onshore and offshore projects, its most impressive, high-profile line of business involves the construction of the colossal offshore platforms used to reach subsea oil fields within Trinidad & Tobago’s waters. The company provides the structural, mechanical, electrical, and instrumentation skill sets needed to build and deliver assemblies – the deck, four legs, and four footings that make-up an offshore platform. Upon being pre-built at its 21-acre yard in La Brea – a cutting-edge site with the manufacturing facilities and workshops needed to tackle the most demanding projects, these component modules are then taken offshore from TOFCO’s deep-water port out to be installed and assembled and commissioned in the Atlantic Ocean and other basins.

To date, the company has completed five major offshore platform jacket and deck fabrication projects for BP Trinidad & Tobago – Cannonball, Mango, Cashima, Savonette and Serrette, one for BG Trinidad & Tobago – Poinsettia Deck, and two for EOG Resources Inc. However, the recent completion of BP Trinidad & Tobago’s Juniper offshore gas platform – the largest offshore structure ever built in Trinidad & Tobago – is its greatest achievement yet. It cannot be argued that the successful manufacture and installation of so large an undertaking does not validate Javed’s faith in TOFCO’s international pedigree.

He said: “We provide a service in country that is equivalent to what you would find anywhere in the world. We organically grew a business in a country where these capabilities did not previously exist.  We brought world-class safety and best practices to the country, organized top talent and mentored young people from the island on how to perform this work, all while not getting anyone hurt or killed.”

The company’s track record of success speaks for itself, and yet it is telling of the troubled state of the market that not even TOFCO has not been immune from the effects of the oil and gas sector’s woes. Historically, the development of strong and enduring partnerships with clients has helped the company generate much in the way of repeat business, and benefit from the economies of scale and decreased costs that come with project repetition. It is through this that the company has maintained its competitiveness.

Increasingly, however, Javed has noted with alarm how belt-tightening amongst former clients and partners has led to falling demand for the platform upgrades and construction projects that have long been the company’s bread and butter. Not that this shrinking project pipeline is an issue effecting only TOFCO – far from it. Rather, Javed believes that falling demand is an industry-wide problem affecting almost all of Trinidad & Tobago’s home-grown energy sector service providers, as cash-strapped former clients turn away from them in perceived favour of cheaper competition from abroad:

“TOFCO has grown this company organically and taught people how to work as team. We’ve transferred technology to the island and empowered the local community. The people of Trinidad are capable of doing this specialised work, we just need the support,” Javed stated. He continued: “The threat is the lack of projects that are needed to maintain continuity.  The upstream sector has been constrained by capital spending world-wide. In this market there is always someone who is willing to steal market share by promising cheaper services. But is that always the best route? These companies aren’t just stealing one job from Trinidad, they are stealing future jobs.  If operators and the T&T government allow spending to be done elsewhere, they are going to kill an industry that has taken over a decade to come together. The real threat is the sustainability of the industry.  If jobs are taken from the people of Trinidad, we may not be able to revive the local fabrication industry. 

Our people need a place to work in Trinidad. America is finally placing more emphasis on doing more work on a national basis rather than sending jobs elsewhere. We should demonstrate that similar mind set in Trinidad.”

Securing the company’s long-term future is understandably foremost on the mind of TOFCO’s management team. Furthermore, in addition to its expansive portfolio of assets – the machinery, equipment, and international-standard manufacturing facilities – TOFCO has another string to its bow that grants the company a genuine competitive advantage: its highly skilled and experience local workforce.

TOFCO’s employee base is considerable, and is made-up of welders, fabricators, and riggers amongst others, whom the company cross-trains over several disciplines. With a focus on youth, many of TOFCO’s senior staff members themselves started from the bottom and worked up through the ranks. The company is no stepping stone – employees come here to stay:

“When people come to work at TOFCO, they don’t want to leave.  We have had some problems in the past associated with trying to ramp up quickly without a full contingent backlog of work to provide smooth continuity.  Because of this, we ended up having many people working for us that thought they were entitled to that job.  Our good employees, our biggest assets, are the ones that earned their jobs and that appreciate the company.  These employees work cooperatively to ensure that we deliver efficiently with safety and quality at the forefront.  

We believe in mentorship and understudy programs, and continue to train and develop our people in country.  When we can, we promote within.  There are several employees who have elevated themselves at various levels such as Supervisors, Superintendents and Managers.”

TOFCO’s commitment to finding and nurturing the top young talent ties back to its earlier years when it had not long entered the market. Back during this time, it was difficult to draw seasoned industry workers to what was then the new kid on the block. So instead, TOFCO built up a workforce comprised of bright young things, many of whom are still at the company today. This faith and investment in youth has not only proved hugely beneficial for the business, but also the community, which Javed feels a great personal affinity and loyalty to. To Javed, the community is as much a partner to TOFCO as its clients and Trinidad & Tobago’s government, and only through delivering ongoing success over the years to come can the business continue to add value to the country at large and its people:

“Maintaining work continuity at our facility is imperative to our sustainability.  Without it, the community loses economic activity, and it challenges TOFCO to once again develop the skill sets of many new employees. In that respect the company is heartened by the public offer of the government to work together in attracting new business and the hope that the commitment to local content will lead to more topsides and jackets being built in Trinidad and Tobago.”

With regards to what the coming years hold for the company, the future looks bright, even in spite of the challenges posed by the marketplace. Following the success of the Juniper project, TOFCO is planning to expand further on its Electrical & Instrumentation (E&I) business – a field which represents something of a growth area.

Additionally, TOFCO is taking a long-term approach by partnering with its clients to further improve efficiency and increase competitiveness in the business. To achieve this, TOFCO looks to drive continuity of projects whilst collaborating on pre-engineering aspects of projects that are years down the road.

A significant segment of the company’s work is on brownfield development projects where existing critical infrastructure either offshore or onshore requires maintenance to extend operational lifetime or enhance efficiencies. Therefore, TOFCO continues to promote business development and gain market intelligence for new opportunities in country throughout the region.

Currently the company continues to support BP/Technip FMC on the Juniper Hook up, TROC at Beachfield and other small brownfield work for various operators. The company has it eyes in the upcoming FPSO support prefab work for the Liza Field in Guyana. TOFCO has been involved in preliminary order of magnitude pricing thru potential EPC contractors on behalf of Exxon.

TOFCO’s main focus is having BP’s Angelin Deck and Jacket project built at TOFCO. There is an expectation that a decision will be made by April 2017.  We are excited about the recent public support from our acting Minister of Energy.  Finance Minister Colm Imbert who is acting as Minister of Energy said to TOFCO at the Juniper sailaway: “Whatever you need, the Government is willing to assist with.” 

In addition to Angelin, there are a variety of projects we are targeting including additional normally unmanned installations on the greenfield developments planned as well as infrastructure upgrades offshore and onshore and onshore downstream projects.”

Another area on which TOFCO will focus is on the good work it does in contributing to the community in which its staff lives and works. The company’s ultimate aim is to help people who cannot otherwise help themselves, and through its outreach work help lift up and empower residents to go on and make their lives better. Taking an active role in the improvement of the social, health, educational and economic opportunities in the community of La Brea is one of TOFCO’s key goals, and on this front it has made great strides forward. Over the last 13 years, its outreach programme has positively impacted children, victims of domestic violence, churches, community leaders and the environment, amongst others.

Rhonda Farrell, HR Manager said it best, when she said: “TOFCO is here to stay. Management has a genuine love for the community and we are dedicated to its development.”