Oil and Gas News

Damian Dwyer’s journey to acting APPEA CEO

Canberra born and bred, Acting Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) Chief Executive Damian Dwyer got his start, as many Canberrans do, in the public sector.

Five years later, Dwyer found himself working in the Department of Primary Industries and Energy, which was spun out in 1998 into what is now the Department of Industry, Energy and Resources.

Through that process he ended up having a fair degree of interaction with the industry, albeit on the outside looking in as a government official.

Sitting down to speak with Oil and Gas Today, Dwyer explains how he ended up working in the industry itself.

“I wasn’t seeing the work I was doing come to fruition firsthand,” Dwyer explains.

“I often left a day’s work wondering what impact the work I was doing was really having on the industry. But I could see – to be frank – that the guys sitting on the other side being influential in the work that was being done. And I could see them being able to draw a direct line between ‘I did this’, and ‘the outcome that was achieved was x, y, and z’.

“That, to me, looked quite a bit more interesting and fulfilling than what I was doing in government.”

Still relatively early on in his career at the time, an opportunity came up with the Minerals Council of Australia that Dwyer simply could not refuse, and he got his start in the mining industry.

Since then, Dwyer has continued doing industry association work, eventually transitioning to a role at APPEA, where he’s been for almost 17 years.

“My journey to this role wasn’t necessarily an ‘Oil and gas was always my home and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do’ story, but I have enjoyed my work at APPEA since I started. I’m quite happy where it’s landed me and excited for what the future holds.”

When asked what drew him to the role of acting Chief Executive at APPEA, Dwyer explained that after reaching a senior role as Deputy Chief Executive of APPEA it felt like a natural progression for his career journey.

“I think it also reflects the fact that I have history and experience with not only the organisation but the industry as well,” says Dwyer.

“I was keen to ensure that during what is going to be a little bit of a transitional period, as APPEA moves from one CEO to the next, that there was and is support for the team and that they have someone they know who has that history and experience.

“My goal was just to try to lend a bit of stability to the work that we’re doing so that when the new CEO joins, there’s an organisation behind them that’s continued to strengthen and work.”

The position of CEO will be undertaken by Samantha McCulloch, who has led the International Energy Agency’s Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage Unit since 2018, in mid-August.

“I’m looking forward to helping Samantha settle in and get up to speed with what’s been going on within the Australian industry given she’s been working with the IEA over the last few years,” says Dwyer.

“While she’s very familiar with the subject matter, it’ll be a great opportunity to help familiarise her with what’s been happening on the ground on a day-to-day basis in the Australian oil and gas industry.”

Looking toward the future, Dwyer says that future fuels and hydrogen are going to be key ways the industry can become a prominent player in a cleaner energy future. The oil and gas industry is continuing to work toward its goal, having made an economy-wide commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest – and with some APPEA members having committed to net zero much sooner than that.

“The industry has put in place — and will continue to put in place – a myriad of varied actions plans to ensure that net zero is reached,” says Dwyer. “In doing so, APPEA and the oil and gas industry are doing more than just talking about doing something; they’re following through in real time with those plans.

“Hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, for example, are two key technologies with which the industry has familiarity and history,” Dwyer says.

“Looking at the oil and gas industry, I believe we have the technical capacity, history, operational experience, and commercial relationships — for example, we’ve been exporting LNG for generations — to build upon and develop on the knowledge and experience that has already been established. So, we see that as a very important part of the industry’s future.”

Given recent unprecedented pressures and shortages in the oil and gas sector, furthering the development of gas as an energy supply source alongside the development of renewables is a key focus of the organisation.

“For APPEA, it’s been a busy period in the post-election context, and we’ve seen a series of things come together such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and what that disruption has meant for the global energy market. We’ve watched the consequences of that play out across Australia,” says Dwyer.

Adding to the pressures have been the planned and unplanned outages at coal-fired power generators and the flooding of coal mines, disrupting the coal supply chain. Likewise, unpredictable conditions have impeded wind-generated energy’s ability to make significant contributions to the market in such a turbulent time.

These factors have all culminated in gas having to step up as power supply source in ways that haven’t been called upon in recent years.

“The industry can and should be very proud of what it was able to do and how it was able to rally together to bring more gas to market and to bring more power into the National Electricity Market (NEM),” says Dwyer.

Understandably, there have been notable price consequences for this.

“It’s a very, very large draw on gas in a very, very short time period and we had a front row seat to how it played out and it was ultimately a live demonstration of the role that gas can play, the flexibility, the responsiveness that it has. The challenge was being asked to produce a very large amount in a very short period,” he says.

“APPEA is continuing to work alongside federal and state governments and other regulators to ensure the best foot is put forward on behalf of the industry. For us, it’s about bringing more supply into the market, but doing so in a way that doesn’t disrupt the industry itself.

“We’re keen to go through that process with them to make sure that we get a sensible outcome that allows the industry to continue to invest and grow. We’ve just spent a decade investing a significant amount of time and effort into building an LNG industry and a domestic gas industry that we are hoping to see continue to operate even more productively over the coming years.”

While coal-fired power generators don’t have a long-term future and it’s likely we will see them retire as part of a transition toward a cleaner energy future, Dwyer says that this must occur in an orderly manner to ensure that Australia does not experience a repeat of the issues that plagued the energy sector in mid-2022.

Furthermore, renewable energy is going to have a really important role to play as part of that journey, but as we’ve seen thanks to recent shortages and pressures, they aren’t quite ready to stand alone just yet.

With a key role to play as the world looks to reduce its emissions, APPEA is confident gas’s story is far from over.

“For us, it’s about all the ways gas power generation and renewable energies can complement each other,” says Dwyer.

In the short term, APPEA is looking to spend the second half of 2022 building toward that brighter and more sustainable future. With new CEO Samantha McCulloch set to get her start mid-August, the organisation is focused on continuing to develop a solid relationship with the new government to ensure they’re well informed about the roles the industry plays. This being its importance to the national economy and providing energy to Australia’s trading partners as well as the continued support the industry provides to rural and regional communities.

“The oil and gas industry is not planning to go anywhere. It is planning to continue to operate the facilities that we’ve got, and to make further investment,” concludes Dwyer.

For more information visit APPEA.